Aid Remains Uncertain

With the new speaker of the House, America’s commitment to its partners is in danger of crumbling. This should serve as a warning for the EU.

With the election of Mike Johnson, a Trump supporter has become speaker of the House and the most important Republican in Congress. His allies expect that he will push for spending cuts in the budget negotiations with the Senate. His agreement for an extension to the temporary budget, with the help of Democrats, was even more surprising.

Further important decisions are now lining up in Congress. This includes an aid package for Ukraine and other foreign policy concerns, and much depends again on Johnson’s willingness to compromise in this regard. European governments — not least of all, that of Ukraine — will be attentively following the negotiations.

Johnson, who was not well known until his election, can be considered a Donald Trump supporter and part of the right-leaning, populist wing of Republicans. After the 2020 elections, Johnson spread conspiracy theories about election manipulation and called upon Republicans in Congress to support a lawsuit with the goal of declaring election results invalid in multiple swing states where Biden had won. With proximity to evangelical Christians and Christian-nationalist groups, he is also considered a representative of strictly conservative politics.

The Budget Issue Is Merely Postponed

Johnson differentiates himself from his rather pragmatic predecessor Kevin McCarthy, on the one hand. On the other hand, Johnson must also manage to bring the various factions of Republicans into harmony. In September, McCarthy was ousted due to his stance of compromise on the first temporary budget. The right-leaning hardliners among the Republicans, in particular, then lost trust in McCarthy. Johnson still has this trust.

At the same time, Johnson cannot bring any measure through Congress without agreement from the Senate where Democrats have a majority. In order to avoid being responsible for a partial government shutdown, which would otherwise be forthcoming, Johnson was surprisingly pragmatic in his compromise with Democrats. Although he accommodated more moderate Republicans from contested electoral districts with little interest in political chaos, politicians from the Freedom Caucus had already begun to criticize the new speaker.

However, this has only delayed the issue of the budget until next year and will consequently be renegotiated at the same time as the first midterm elections; further conflicts are baked in. And so Johnson will have to keep performing a tightrope act: He must both bring the different wings of Congressional Republicans into harmony, as well as find compromise with the Senate. He could leave Congress paralyzed by taking an uncompromising stance.

Combining Aid for the Middle East, Israel, Taiwan and Ukraine

The negotiations before the Christmas recess, in addition to the budget, covered the continuation of aid to Ukraine and support for Israel. Time is running out regarding support for Ukraine in particular. The funds that have so far been approved by Congress for Ukraine will last only until the end of the year, according to the government. If Congress does not agree on any further funds, American aid would run out next year — a horror of a scenario for Ukraine and many European governments.

The issue of Ukraine is increasingly dividing the Republican Party. There is still wide support in the Senate; however, in the House the number of Republicans who want to at least reduce support has increased. This issue makes the division among Republicans obvious: There are those who wish to see the United States continue to be the leading global actor, and there are those of the opinion that American tax dollars would be better spent securing the border with Mexico.

Because an individual approval of new aid for Ukraine would fail in the House due to Republican division, the Biden administration has been trying for weeks to combine the support with other measures in order to get it through Congress. The package proposed by the government amounting to about $105 billion includes military aid for Israel and Taiwan, humanitarian aid for the Middle East, measures for strengthening border security, as well as funds for Ukraine amounting to over $60 billion. If the plan is successful, support for Ukraine would be set up so comprehensively that it would last beyond the 2024 elections.

The proponents of this solution in parts of both parties argue that support for Israel and support for Ukraine should not be considered individually, because in both cases democratic countries and American partners are under attack. Even if the threats are different, so the argument goes, in both cases it’s about a systemic conflict between democracies and autocracies around the world, to which many American politicians in both camps frequently refer.

A Warning to Hezbollah and Tehran

Simplified, their argument goes more or less like this: Further Western support for Ukraine serves not just the decisive counteroffensive against Russian aggression in Europe, which could also later be directed toward a NATO country, but also against Iran and North Korea, who support Russia’s war. At the same time, American support has a deterring effect on China, who could feel emboldened to attack Taiwan in the event of a Russian military victory.

Furthermore, military support for Israel, as well as a robust American military presence in the region, are a clear warning to Tehran and Hezbollah to stop playing with fire in the region. In Washington, many are also convinced that an inflammation of conflict in the Middle East would offer convenient distraction from the war with Ukraine for the Kremlin. According to proponents of the package, whether it wants to or not, there are many crises the United States avoid as some Republicans are demanding.

And Johnson, the new speaker, who just a few weeks prior spoke out against further aid for Ukraine, has not ruled this out either; however, he rejects a comprehensive package and proposes deciding individually on foreign policy measures. He failed in his attempt to push an aid package limited to Israel through Congress. His approach of simultaneously combining the measure with savings on the part of the IRS was tactically clumsy; support for Israel was less than controversial in either party at the time and would have put the Senate under pressure.

Fear of Voters

Meanwhile, additional military aid for Israel, if it is not tied to clear conditions for the Israeli government, will be seen critically by Democrats who need to keep in mind voters of Arab descent, as well as young voters in important swing states such as Michigan with regard to the coming elections.

At the same time, many members of Congress do not trust that Johnson can actually get Republican representatives to agree to an individual measure in favor of Ukraine once the leverage of support for Israel is gone. That’s why both parties are currently negotiating how the rules of asylum policy can be tightened — as part of a major compromise — as Republicans are requesting.

This much is certain: Failure to continue aid for Ukraine would be a political loss for Biden and the Democrats, but also for leading Republican politicians like Mitch McConnell, minority leader in the Senate. The conflicts on the Republican side will, therefore, become more intense. In the end, this could result in a compromise where aid for Ukraine continues but provides distinctly lower funding than Biden is requesting.

Like Through a Magnifying Glass

On this issue, much now depends on which political agenda Johnson — who recently visited Trump in Florida — pursues next week. With a position that is too uncompromising, he could contribute to a paralyzed Congress and thus to political chaos in the election year.

Trump’s campaign would probably benefit from such a development, but it would further divide Republicans in Congress — and that could backfire in the elections, because a low number of swing voters in a few states could be decisive in winning the elections. In the House, Republicans are running the risk of losing their narrow majority, in which case Johnson would also lose his post.

As seen through a magnifying glass, attention is presently concentrating on Johnson’s political agenda and his efforts to keep Republicans in Congress together. The uncertainty that this creates regarding aid for Ukraine, among other things, means one thing above all for Europe: It must expand its commitment to Ukraine as quickly as possible and cannot place its hopes solely on its trans-Atlantic ally.

About this publication

About Michael Stehle 103 Articles
I am a graduate of the University of Maryland with a BA in Linguistics and Germanic Studies. I have a love for language and I find translation to be both an engaging activity as well as an important process for connecting the world.

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