Johnson Indicates Change In Stance On Ukraine To Republican Senators

Republican senators were informed by Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) on Wednesday that the House will be sending them legislation to assist Ukraine. However, he emphasized that the version passed by the House will differ significantly from the $95 billion foreign aid package approved by the Senate last month.

During a question-and-answer session at the annual Senate Republican retreat, held at the Library of Congress, Johnson sought to reassure GOP senators who were expressing their frustration regarding funding for Ukraine.

According to senators who were part of the discussion, Johnson informed them that the House plans to send a Ukraine aid package to the Senate. He suggested the possibility of transforming it into a loan or lend-lease program to ensure that U.S. taxpayers do not have to spend billions of dollars without any expectation of receiving something in return.

During the discussion, the Speaker also mentioned the possibility of implementing a measure akin to the REPO for Ukrainians Act, introduced by Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas). This proposed legislation would grant the authority to seize Russian sovereign assets and allocate the proceeds from the liquidation of these assets into a fund dedicated to supporting Ukraine.

Johnson did not mention whether the Ukraine aid package would incorporate stringent border security reforms like the “Remain in Mexico” policy, which would likely encounter resistance from Senate Democrats.

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In White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, on March 14, U.S. Speaker of the House Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA) addressed the audience while House Majority Leader Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) attentively listened during a House GOP leadership news conference at the Greenbrier Hotel. The occasion was the “2024 House Republican Issues Conference,” also known as the annual House GOP retreat, which is being held in West Virginia from March 13 to March 15.

Republican senators were given a pathway by Johnson to assist Ukraine, following pressure from Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. McConnell urged Johnson to bring the Senate-passed package funding Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan to the House floor.

According to Senator John Cornyn from Texas, there is a possibility that the issue of Russian assets may be addressed once the appropriations bills are dealt with. He mentioned that there have been several suggestions, one of which involves the forfeiture of $300 billion in Russian assets. It is worth noting that Senator Cornyn was among the 22 Republican senators who voted in favor of the Senate emergency foreign aid package last month.

In support of Ukraine, Cornyn, who is vying to replace McConnell as the Republican leader in the future, expressed enthusiasm for the notion of seizing Russian assets. He believes this would be a beneficial move.

According to the speaker, the Russians should be held accountable and made to pay for Ukraine, as well as compensate the United States and its allies for providing military support to Ukraine.

Cornyn, a trusted advisor to the Senate GOP leadership team, also expressed his support for the concept of establishing a lend-lease program to assist Ukraine. This program could potentially serve as an alternative or supplement to the $60 billion emergency package currently being considered by the Senate.

President Franklin Roosevelt signed the lend-lease program in 1941 to arm Britain and other allies against Nazi Germany, just like what FDR did in World War II.

Cornyn expressed optimism after listening to Johnson’s remarks, stating that he is confident that the House will send a Ukraine aid package to the Senate.

According to him, the Speaker recently stated, “We won’t leave Ukraine without providing assistance,” or something similar.

During the meeting, Senator Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), who was present, confirmed that the Speaker expressed his clear intention to assist Ukraine.

According to Cramer, Johnson made it abundantly clear that he supports the implementation of a lend-lease program and the passing of legislation to confiscate Russian assets in order to finance a Ukraine support fund.

According to him, he found it to be quite optimistic. He mentioned that he and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) have collaborated with the House on a legislation that will be presented to the Senate. This proposed bill is likely to incorporate President Trump’s notion of a lend-lease program.

He explained that, in his opinion, it is the most effective approach to finding a solution that may not be universally agreed upon, but one that everyone can at least support.

During the House Republican retreat at the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia, Johnson emphasized his commitment to supporting Ukraine and preventing Russian President Vladimir Putin from taking over the country. He assured reporters that he will prioritize the will of the House when it comes to implementing a package of assistance for Ukraine.

According to the speaker, there is a strong sentiment against Vladimir Putin prevailing. In their opinion, Putin’s ambitions may extend beyond Ukraine and into Europe. They believe that there is a clear distinction between right and wrong, with Ukraine being the unfortunate victim in this situation.

House Republicans are currently considering various options, but it is important to note that the final version passed by the House may not be identical to the Senate supplemental.

Graham emphasized the importance of implementing a lend-lease program to assist Ukraine in halting the advances made by Russia on the battlefield.

“I believe it is a sophisticated solution, especially when considering the REPO Act, which allows for the seizure of assets belonging to oligarchs,” he stated. “I consider this to be a favorable option, as it not only provides assistance to Ukraine but also offers the opportunity for a loan.”

Graham emphasized that any loan given to Ukraine would have the option of being waived and would not accrue any interest.

“I’m feeling really optimistic, more than ever,” he exclaimed, referring to Johnson’s remarks.

During a rally in North Charleston, S.C., Trump proposed a solution, saying, “We should loan them the money. If they can make it, they pay us back. If they can’t make it, they don’t have to pay us back.”

Some Republican senators express doubt about the loan proposal, cautioning that it could further burden Ukraine financially, especially as the country’s forces face setbacks in the ongoing war. Additionally, they believe that it may take additional weeks to develop the specific policy details of a lend-lease program.

“I am open to considering any option that is presented. However, I believe that a loan would only add to Ukraine’s current burdens, which is not what they need at this time. Nevertheless, if it is necessary to secure aid, I am willing to consider it,” expressed Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), the vice chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, who played a pivotal role in developing the Senate package.”

“I believe that the bill we passed offers a more effective approach,” she stated.

“I completely understand the House’s desire to make amendments to the bill, and I believe it is a valid approach. However, I urge them to prioritize the supplemental funding. The situation in Ukraine is concerning, especially with the possibility of them running out of ammunition. I believe this shortage may have contributed to their recent setbacks on the battlefield,” she expressed her concerns.

On Tuesday, McConnell urged Johnson to allow House members the opportunity to at least consider the bill that had been passed in the House.

In a statement to reporters, he emphasized the importance of allowing a vote on the supplemental that was sent to the House several weeks ago. He urged the Speaker to give the House the opportunity to express its position.

During a press conference on Wednesday, Johnson acknowledged the importance of the funding and recognized the need for a swift resolution. However, he also highlighted the fact that the Senate took four months to pass its Ukraine funding package.

However, he stressed the importance of prioritizing the regular appropriations bills before addressing the emergency foreign aid package for Ukraine. This is due to the sensitive nature of passing bills through the House with a narrow Republican majority.

He explained that it was crucial for them to avoid placing the supplemental before the appropriations bills. This was because doing so could potentially impact the vote tally on the appropriations bills, which would ultimately affect their ability to fund the government.

According to Cramer, Johnson assured senators on Wednesday that he is optimistic about a swift agreement being reached between Senate and House negotiators on the second batch of appropriations bills. This agreement needs to be finalized by March 22 in order to prevent a partial government shutdown.

During the Senate hearing, Johnson acknowledged that there are still significant differences among senators regarding the Homeland Security appropriations bill. This particular legislation has become entangled in the ongoing partisan conflict surrounding President Biden’s immigration and border security strategies.

There are some individuals who are suggesting the idea of separating that bill from the other five bills that fund the departments of Defense, Labor, Health and Human Services, State, and other important areas.

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