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Are House Republicans finally willing to approve $60bn for Ukraine?

The US House of Representatives is expected to vote this weekend on sending $60bn in new military aid to Ukraine, a move that could end a months-long stalemate in Washington at a time Kyiv is starting to lose ground in its attempt to repel Russian aggression.

But the package unveiled earlier this week by Mike Johnson, the Republican Speaker of the House, still faces hurdles before a Saturday evening vote — including a threat to his speakership.

What will the House of Representatives vote on?

Earlier this week, Johnson presented a complicated five-part package that would appropriate $60.8bn for Ukraine in one aid bill; $26.4bn for Israel in another; and an $8.1bn package for Taiwan and other countries in the Indo-Pacific, aimed at deterring China.

In total, this is similar to a $95bn aid package already approved by the Senate and backed by President Joe Biden, which included funds for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, as well as humanitarian assistance for Gaza and other parts of the world.

A fourth bill would allow Ukraine to seize Russian assets; impose new sanctions on Russia, China and Iran; and ban TikTok from US app stores unless its Chinese owner, ByteDance, divests the video-sharing platform. A fifth bill intended to improve security on the US-Mexico border has also been introduced.

Why has Johnson finally decided to allow a vote on Ukraine aid?

Johnson, a close ally of Donald Trump, has held off a vote on the Senate-approved bill for two months, constrained by the outsized influence of a small group of isolationists in the Republican party who oppose aiding Ukraine and have threatened to oust him if he brought the aid bill to a vote.

But Johnson has also faced pressure from more traditional Republicans, including their Senate leader Mitch McConnell, who have long advocated for assisting Kyiv. Johnson’s five-part plan is his attempt at balancing the feuding factions of the Republican party in a way that could get the aid through the House.

Johnson was helped politically by Iran’s aerial attack on Israel, the US’s closest ally in the Middle East, at the weekend, which triggered new momentum within the Republican party to take up the military aid bill.

He has also suggested House members were persuaded by recent intelligence briefings on Ukraine’s faltering war effort. Johnson is now making a full-throated defence of supporting Kyiv and Israel.

“We know the urgency in Ukraine and in Israel . . . we are going to stand for freedom and make sure that Vladimir Putin doesn’t march through Europe,” Johnson told CNN on Wednesday. “I think the Congress is going to take an important stand here . . . a strong America is good for the entire world.”

Where does Donald Trump stand?

Trump, who casts a long shadow over House Republicans, has long been sceptical of funding Ukraine’s war effort and has called on European allies to do more to defend Kyiv.

But the former president has not staked out a clear position on the latest legislative package. When Johnson visited Trump last week at Mar-a-Lago, he told reporters in Palm Beach that the Speaker was “doing a very good job” and suggested he was open to an aid package for Ukraine.

On Thursday Trump posted a long statement to his Truth Social platform calling on Europe to contribute more, but without clearly stating whether he was opposed or in favour of the new funding bills.

“Why isn’t Europe giving more money to help Ukraine?” he wrote. “Why is it that the United States is over $100 billion into the Ukraine war more than Europe, and we have an ocean between us as separation!”

EU countries have spent $106bn on aid for Ukraine since the start of the war in February 2022, the EU says, while the UK says it has committed almost £12bn, or about $15bn.

Will the foreign aid package pass the House?

Because Republicans only have a wafer-thin majority in the House, Johnson will almost certainly rely on Democratic support in order to pass the bills, especially as several isolationist members of his own party, led by Georgia congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, have signalled they will vote against it. On Thursday, the House Freedom Caucus, an influential right-wing group of House Republicans, urged its members to vote against the package.

Biden said on Wednesday that he “strongly” supported the foreign aid package and urged the House and Senate to get behind it. “I will sign this into law immediately to send a message to the world: we stand with our friends, and we won’t let Iran or Russia succeed.”

Hakeem Jeffries, the Democratic leader in the House, also indicated on Wednesday that he would be directing party members to get behind the funding for Ukraine in particular, telling reporters: “This is a Churchill or Chamberlain moment. We can either confront Russian aggression in defence of democracy, or we can allow pro-Putin extreme Maga Republicans to appease.”

What could derail the plan?

A sudden intervention by Trump could upend Johnson’s plan.

And Johnson faces a looming threat, both to his foreign aid package and his leadership, thanks to Greene and other hardliners who have threatened to invoke a “motion to vacate” — the same legislative manoeuvre that led to the removal of Kevin McCarthy as Speaker last year.

If Greene were to pull the trigger, Johnson would be relying on Democrats to bail him out, given he would need the support of the majority of the House to remain Speaker.

Last year, Democrats failed to come to McCarthy’s defence. But a lot of bad blood had built up between McCarthy and House Democrats over several years, while there have been fewer Democratic objections to Johnson during his tenure as Speaker. Some Democrats have suggested they would back Johnson against the rightwing rebels in the Republican party if he passes the Ukraine aid package.

What happens if the bill passes the House?

The Democrat-controlled US Senate will need to pass the bill before it is signed into law by Biden. Democratic and Republican leaders in the Senate have said they would encourage their members to get behind the national security bills — an effort that was helped by the president’s declaration that he would sign the package into law if it reached his desk.

Passage in the House could also affect social media app TikTok’s future in the US.

One likely outcome is that the separate bills voted on in the House would be combined into a single package that would be sent to the Senate for a vote. That would significantly increase the odds of the TikTok measure passing the Senate — where an earlier TikTok bill that passed the House last month had been languishing. A large majority of senators would be unlikely to vote against a package that includes aid for Ukraine.

What difference will it make to Ukraine?

The bill would allow the US to resume deliveries of desperately needed weapons and ammunition to Kyiv at a time when its armed forces are struggling to hold on to defensive positions in the east of the country and to defend cities against Russian missile and bomb attack.

Ukraine’s top priorities are artillery ammunition — Russian forces are firing between five and 10 shells for every Ukrainian one — and air defence systems and interceptors. The US has much deeper inventories of arms and munitions than Ukraine’s European allies, which have depleted their already meagre stocks and struggled to increase production.

The Pentagon could theoretically resupply Ukraine in short order — although much of the $60.8bn earmarked for Kyiv would be spent on procuring weaponry. New orders will take time but may be harder for a future administration to cancel than drawing on Pentagon stocks.

US aid would come in the form of loans, so would add to Ukraine’s debt pile at a time when it is restructuring privately held debt under its IMF programme. Kyiv will hope that the loans are eventually written off.

The biggest short-term effect may be to boost Ukrainian morale. Kyiv badly needs to raise more men for its army so having ammunition to fire back at the Russians will help.

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