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House Republicans aim to pass a stand-alone aid package for Israel

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin are testifying before the Senate this morning on U.S. military aid for Israel and Ukraine, or at least they're trying to. Secretary Blinken's testimony was interrupted constantly by protesters in the hearing room.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Cease-fire now, let Gaza live. Cease-fire now.

MARTÍNEZ: Over in the House, Republicans, led by new speaker Mike Johnson, have been very vocal in their support for Israel. With Ukraine, it's more complicated. NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez is following this. He joins us now. Franco, so why is the House taking this approach?

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Well, A, I mean, you have a new speaker of the House, and this is one of the first examples of the direction he's trying to take his conference. I mean, the reality is his positions line up more with the right flank of his party. Those are Republicans who have been fighting to stop funding for the war in Ukraine. And Johnson says the focus needs to be on limiting spending, and that's really key here for Israel as well because a big part of the plan is that $14 billion for Israel would be offset by $14 billion in spending cuts to the IRS. You know, just note that it's not common to offset emergency funding with spending cuts. Congress usually takes them up separately because emergencies are emergencies and treated as such.

MARTÍNEZ: We've known that it's President Biden's plan to take them up together, so how will the White House respond to that?

ORDOÑEZ: I mean, the White House is calling this already a nonstarter. They say Republicans are playing political games with national security. You know, Biden asked for $106 billion. More than half would have gone to Ukraine, and the rest would be split between Israel, the Indo-Pacific and the U.S. border. The White House sees Ukraine and Israel as a related fight against terrorists and dictators. And President Biden says if they're not stopped, it's only going to lead to greater threats to America and higher costs as well. And that's the case that Blinken and Austin are going to make to lawmakers when they testify.

MARTÍNEZ: So what does all this mean, then, to just get any of this funding to either Israel or Ukraine at some point?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, I mean, it's going to be a really tough situation. I mean, Democrats and a lot of Republicans will oppose the measure simply on precedent, not wanting to tie emergency funding to spending cuts. And Democrats also say the IRS needs that money to operate ahead of tax season.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, and Johnson also has more than just the White House or Democrats to deal with.

ORDOÑEZ: Right, he's at odds with some of his own party, including Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. McConnell has also tied the two causes together, and he's done so very publicly. I mean, listen to how he introduced the Ukrainian ambassador at a speech just yesterday at the University of Louisville.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MITCH MCCONNELL: This is a moment for swift and decisive action to prevent further loss of life and to impose real consequences on the tyrants who terrorized the people of Ukraine and of Israel. And right now, the Senate has a chance to produce supplemental assistance that will help us do exactly that.

ORDOÑEZ: Now, House Republicans aren't the only ones who disagree with McConnell. This is a big issue on the right flank of the party and in conservative media. I mean, this is really a fight over Ukraine funding that is just another reflection of the broader shift of the Republican Party away from hawkish foreign policy.

MARTÍNEZ: That's White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez. Thanks for keeping track of this for us.

ORDOÑEZ: Thanks, A.

(SOUNDBITE OF TAKENOBU'S "EXPOSITION") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.

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