Zelensky presses Johnson on urgency of Ukraine aid

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday re-upped his call for Congress to provide additional aid for Kyiv, directly warning Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) of Russian advances as GOP opposition has blocked assistance for the embattled U.S. ally.

After a phone call with the Speaker, Zelensky said he thanked Johnson and other U.S. officials for their “critical support of Ukraine” since Russia’s invasion in February 2022, and briefed the Speaker on the “battlefield situation.”

He then made another plea for Congress to send additional aid overseas, as officials in Washington and Kyiv sound the alarm about Ukraine’s waning resources.

“In this situation, quick passage of US aid to Ukraine by Congress is vital. We recognize that there are differing views in the House of Representatives on how to proceed, but the key is to keep the issue of aid to Ukraine as a unifying factor,” Zelensky wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

The Ukrainian president said his conversation with Johnson also touched on “the importance of cutting off Russia’s sources of funding for its war as soon as possible and using frozen Russian assets for Ukraine’s benefit,” an idea that has ramped up on Capitol Hill as a way to appease some conservatives skeptical of sending more aid to Ukraine.

“We also rely on the leadership of Congress in this regard,” he added.

The phone call between Zelensky and Johnson comes as Congress prepares to take up the controversial issue of sending additional aid to Ukraine, which has bedeviled lawmakers for months as a growing contingent of the House GOP conference becomes opposed to supporting the embattled U.S. ally.

Leaving Washington last week for a long holiday recess, Johnson vowed the House will take up the issue as the next order of business when Congress returns to Capitol Hill in mid-April. But it remains unclear how he will approach the prickly matter.

Johnson has been at the center of the stormy debate over Ukraine aid since virtually the moment he took the gavel in October. A month earlier, he’d joined most House Republicans in opposing $300 million in new military aid to Kyiv, but as Speaker he’s said repeatedly that he wants to support America’s democratic ally in its defense against invading Russian forces.

Johnson has refused, however, to consider a Senate-passed foreign aid package despite a strong bipartisan vote in the upper chamber last month. That package, which includes $60 billion for Ukraine, passed with support from 22 Republican senators, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

The issue is thornier for GOP leaders in the House, however, because former President Trump had come out in opposition to any new Ukraine aid before November’s elections. And a long list of House conservatives have sided with Trump, warning Johnson against staging a vote on the issue, particularly if the aid is not accompanied by efforts to boost security on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Complicating the math for the Speaker, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) on Friday filed a motion to remove Johnson from power over what she considers his betrayal of conservative policy principles. Greene did not move to force a vote on her resolution, but she called it “a warning,” suggesting she might do so if Johnson moves the Ukraine funding when Congress returns to Washington.

“He should not bring funding for Ukraine,” she told reporters last week.

If Greene does, however, pull the trigger on her ouster attempt, some Democrats say they are prepared to step in and protect Johnson — if he moves on the stalled aid for Ukraine.

“If the choice is between Ukraine aid and providing a vote to stop a motion to vacate, or no Ukraine aid, I think there’s a lot of Democrats who would be willing to assist in getting it done,” Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.) told The Hill by phone Wednesday.

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