US aid to Ukraine moves closer to possible passage

FILE PHOTO: Pro-Ukrainian demonstrators march along the National Mall in Washington

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Congress moved closer on Thursday to ending a months-long stalemate and voting on legislation to provide billions of dollars in security assistance to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, despite bitter debate over the measure ahead of a weekend vote.

Members of the Republican-led House of Representatives Rules Committee spent hours debating the package of four bills: three providing the security aid and a fourth with measures including sanctions, a threat to ban the social media app TikTok and the potential transfer of seized Russian assets to Ukraine.

More than two months after the Democratic-led Senate approved a $95 billion package of security assistance for Ukraine, Israel and U.S. partners in the Indo-Pacific, Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson on Wednesday unveiled House bills providing the assistance.

Largely similar to the Senate measure, the House bills provide $61 billion to address the conflict in Ukraine, including $23 billion to replenish U.S. weapons, stocks and facilities; $26 billion for Israel, including $9.1 billion for humanitarian needs, and $8.12 billion for the Indo-Pacific.

Johnson said the chamber would vote as soon as Saturday, despite fierce objections from the right wing of his conference. That resistance likely means the bills will need Democratic support to pass, as Republicans control only a slim 218-to-213 majority.

The hardline House Freedom Caucus came out against the security package on Thursday. And one Republican Rules committee member, hardline Representative Ralph Norman, said he would be a "no," suggesting that Ukraine aid be used as "leverage" to win tougher controls on immigration policy opposed by Democrats.


But other lawmakers predicted the bills would become law.

The Senate passed its security assistance package in February with strong 70% bipartisan support, from both Democrats and Republicans, after rejecting a bipartisan border security bill.

Representative Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told reporters after testifying in the hearing that he believed the measures would pass.

He said the need for aid to Ukraine is dire, and that he felt Johnson had been influenced by classified briefings on the situation there from CIA Director William Burns and others. "When you get into that space and you see what is the real picture, it's eye-opening," McCaul said.

During the hearing, McCaul said Ukraine was at the risk of collapse without timely U.S. assistance, saying, "I would give them two weeks to a month before the Russians would take over Ukraine."

House Democrats discussed the security bills at a conference meeting on Thursday morning, but party leaders said they would wait to see more, including what limits on debate and amendments are set by the Rules committee, before making an official statement.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer met with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal on Thursday and told him he hoped the Senate would act as soon as this weekend to help Ukraine.

"You are not only defending your country valiantly, you're defending the West, and our values and our freedom. And we're going to do everything we can, hopefully as soon as this weekend when the House sends us the bill, to get it done here in the Senate. It's very, very important to us," Schumer said at a photo opportunity with reporters.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; additional reporting by David Ljunggren and Makini Brice; editing by Jonathan Oatis)