Challenges Ahead for the New Speaker as the House Approves Aid to Israel

On Thursday, the House of Representatives approved the Republican plan to provide $14.3 billion in aid to Israel for its war against Hamas. This was the first major legislative task under the leadership of the newly elected Speaker Mike Johnson. However, disregarding President Joe Biden's request to combine this with aid to Ukraine, the House is heading for a showdown with the Democratic-led Senate.

The House Republican bill, passed by 226-196, will fund Israel's military by cutting an equal amount from planned spending on tax enforcement at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) - an initiative that Biden had defended as part of his signed Inflation Reduction Act. This measure now faces bipartisan opposition in the Senate, where most lawmakers support a package of aid to both Israel and Ukraine to counter Russia's invasion. Biden had requested a $105 billion package that would combine aid to both countries and strengthen border security in the U.S.-Mexico border, provide security assistance to Taiwan, and establish a humanitarian aid fund for hotspots worldwide.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer stated during a speech on Thursday that the Senate would not consider the House bill, deeming it a "deeply misguided proposal." He said that the Senate would develop its own bipartisan bill that includes aid to Israel and Ukraine, as well as humanitarian aid to Gaza, which was not included in the House Republican bill.

If the House Republican bill for aid to Israel is almost certain to be defeated in the Senate, Johnson could find himself in a similar political situation as his predecessor, Speaker Kevin McCarthy, caught between Democrats and far-right members of his own party. McCarthy was removed from the Speaker position after working with Democrats to prevent a government shutdown. If Johnson attempts to do the same, whether to deliver aid to Israel or prevent another government shutdown, he could face a similar fate. However, if he doesn't, he has little hope of getting the bill passed.

Hardline Republicans have indicated that they may give Johnson more flexibility on financial matters than McCarthy, although the House is behind schedule on preserving government funding and remains under pressure to approve aid to both Israel and Ukraine.

"I'm still amazed that when the world is in crisis, and we need to help Israel respond to Hamas, the Republican Party thought it was a good idea to tie aid to Israel to an extreme right-wing proposal that will increase the deficit and is entirely, completely partisan," Schumer said.

The House's decision to provide substantial aid to Israel comes against the backdrop of the nation continuing to grapple with the conflict against Hamas, a militant group responsible for terrorist attacks on October 7. Since then, Israel has initiated retaliatory attacks in the Gaza Strip, and casualties in the region continue to rise.

Most of the funding in the House Republican bill is intended to support Israel in bolstering its weaponry systems, including $4 billion for replenishing missile defense systems like the "Iron Dome" and "David's Sling" to counter short-range rocket threats. It also includes $200 million for enhancing U.S. embassy security and evacuating U.S. citizens. However, the bill does not account for humanitarian aid to Gaza, which Biden had requested and some Democrats consider essential.

Thursday's vote was a difficult choice for many pro-Israel Democrats who wanted to support Israel during the crisis but were hesitant to support a bill that omitted provisions for Ukraine and humanitarian aid. Nonetheless, a dozen Democrats voted in favor of the House Republican bill, citing the need for immediate aid to Israel without delay and setting the stage for a protracted standoff with the Senate.

Johnson defended the bill on Thursday, stating that the decision to link aid to Israel with spending cuts was more of a financial than a political choice. "I didn't attach this for political purposes," he said at a press conference. "I attached it because, again, we're trying to get back to the principle of fiscal responsibility." The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office contradicted this argument, stating that the spending cuts proposed in the bill would increase the deficit by $12.5 billion over the next decade due to reduced revenue collections.

Johnson mentioned that the House of Representatives would consider the aid package for Ukraine after negotiations with Israel. However, he also emphasized that it would need to be tied to stricter border security provisions, further complicating prospects for Ukraine funding in Washington. "Ukraine will come soon, it will come next," Johnson said. "And you've heard me say that we want to tie border security to Ukraine... If we're going to take care of the border in Ukraine, we also need to take care of America's border."