Congress finally approves foreign aid package

Rick Morain is the former publisher and owner of the Jefferson Herald, for which he writes a regular column.

Congress finally got it together.

Overruling a few outspoken far-right Republican members, on April 20 the U.S. House belatedly approved crucial aid for nations and peoples that desperately need it.
 The wide vote margins reflected bipartisan support for all three measures. Here are the numbers:

The House approved about $8 billion for America’s Indo-Pacific allies, by a vote of 385 to 34 (roll call), a roughly 11 to 1 margin. All 34 House members in opposition were far-right Republicans. The aid will beef up military supplies for Far East nations threatened by China’s military build-up.

A $26 billion Israel package includes $9 billion in “humanitarian relief for people in Gaza and other conflict zones.” The 366 to 58 vote (a 6 to 1 margin) was bipartisan: 193 Republicans and 173 Democrats in favor, and 21 Republicans and 37 Democrats opposed (roll call).

Most of the Democrats who voted “no” did so because the bill stripped U.S. funding from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). The denial of UNRWA funds resulted from a report that a dozen UNRWA staff members, out of a total of some 30,000, had participated in the horrific Hamas attack on Israelis last October. UNRWA is the primary provider of food and medicine aid transport into Gaza for the desperate Palestinians there.

And some $61 billion—nearly two-thirds of the $95 billion total—will go to Ukraine, to strengthen its military resisting Russia’s invasion for more than two years, and to provide economic assistance. The vote on the Ukraine portion of the package was 311 to 112 (nearly a 3 to 1 margin), with all Democrats in favor and Republicans split: 101 yes and 112 no (roll call).

Significantly, all four of Iowa’s U.S. House members—Republicans Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-01), Ashley Hinson (IA-02), Zach Nunn (IA-03), and Randy Feenstra (IA-04)—supported all the bills.

The Senate overwhelmingly approved the House package on April 23 by 79 votes to 18. Iowa Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst were among the supporters (roll call). The Senate had earlier approved a bipartisan foreign aid package similar to the one that the House approved, but House leaders did not bring that measure to the floor. President Joe Biden signed the package on April 24 and vowed to begin sending equipment to Ukraine within hours.

Congress dithered on aid to Ukraine for about six months, while Russia took advantage of Ukraine’s supply shortages. The Pentagon has amassed a huge supply of military materiel ready to go to Ukraine, some of which officials say will take less than a week to reach the battlefields in the eastern and southern portions of that nation once the aid package becomes law.

Republican leadership in the House always prefers to enact legislation using just its own partisan majority. But the GOP margin there has dwindled to fewer votes than the fingers on one hand, and when two House Republicans declared their opposition to the Ukraine bill, Speaker Mike Johnson had a choice to make: let the bill die, or rely on Democratic support to get it across the finish line.

To his considerable credit, and for the good of America’s image abroad, as well as Ukraine’s future, he chose the latter course. Once Johnson made his decision, the outcome of the bills was never in doubt.

Johnson has been brave in stating his desire for the U.S. to help preserve freedom around the world. His decision to employ Democratic House members in that effort took considerable courage, since some of the most extreme members of his caucus had already declared their intention to call for his ouster as speaker.

That appears unlikely to happen now, since a number of Democrats have indicated their intention to support him if such a vote actually takes place, in return for his action on the military aid packages. That would leave Johnson’s opponents like Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia out in the cold, their threat nothing more than bluster.

Of course, these developments don’t mean that bitter partisanship no longer exists in the House. If Democrats see an opportunity in the future to make life difficult for their GOP counterparts, including Speaker Johnson, they’re likely to seize that chance. The policy divisions and near-even partisan split in House will no doubt prevail. Issues like abortion and immigration will continue to divide the American people and their elected Representatives.

But Johnson’s decision last weekend to aid our allies shores up America’s position vis-a-vis our allies around the world, including those who have expressed concern about our resolve. What happens next with Republican extremists in the House, and their once-vaunted power, will be one of the year’s more interesting political threads.

About the Author(s)

Rick Morain