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Rep. Michael McCaul predicts Israel, Ukraine package will come to the floor by April

The Foreign Affairs Committee chair, a Republican, added that many in his party are buying into Russian propaganda promoted by Vladimir Putin

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Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX)

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) predicted that the House will ultimately vote on a combined Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan aid package — either with the support of House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) or through a procedural workaround — by April.

“[Johnson is] either going to have to do it, put it on the floor himself, or it’s going to be by virtue of a discharge petition,” McCaul told reporters at an event hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. “I think Republicans that would be supportive of Ukraine wouldn’t support a discharge because it’s really going around leadership altogether. I think that’s going to be the difficult choice for him because [some conservatives are] threatening a motion to vacate” — kicking Johnson out of the speakership if he allows a Ukraine vote.

The discharge petition is a bipartisan procedural mechanism that allows a majority of the House to force a floor vote on a particular bill, an effort that Democrats have been discussing but would require support from some Republicans.

McCaul predicted that Congress will be able to advance aid for Ukraine by April, which has been Ukraine’s target for beginning a new counteroffensive against Russia, but said he doesn’t expect the House to begin its work on the subject until after the March 8 government funding deadline.

That could also have consequences for Israel, given that sources tell Jewish Insider that the country needs assistance immediately.

McCaul said he thinks a majority of the House would support the aid package, if it comes to the floor. But he also said the House will put its own mark on the package, particularly the aid for Ukraine — partly in an effort to make the bill “palatable” to skeptics.

That will add more time to the process, requiring the two chambers to negotiate and the Senate to pass the bill again.

But some members “I don’t think can be persuaded” to support Ukraine because “the narrative is so strong,” he said, describing the “brainwashing… that we have to choose between our southern border and Ukraine” as a “false dichotomy.”  

The HFAC leader touched on calls by former President Donald Trump and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) to convert U.S. foreign aid into a loan program

McCaul suggested that could be feasible if limited to budget support and humanitarian funds for Ukraine, but not the more substantial portion of military aid in the package, as Trump and Graham seem to want.

“I don’t think the loan works with weapons because we’re not going to loan ourselves money to build weapons for our own defense industrial base,” he said.

McCaul described Trump as potentially having a decisive role to play in the debate over additional Ukraine funding, noting that Trump has “a lot of control over my party,” and that his decisions could motivate or provide cover for Republicans’ votes on the package.

“He’s probably thinking about, ‘Do I want to be the guy that comes in to fix the problem, or was I the guy that just watched it implode, or advocated for its implosion?’” McCaul said. “He has to make that decision, and you know where I stand on it.”

The Foreign Affairs chair said that he’s been discussing possibilities for short- and long-term peace in the Middle East with leaders from Arab states.

He noted that King Abdullah II of Jordan, who visited Washington last week, is pushing for a cease-fire during Ramadan, which begins in about a month, warning that continued conflict during the Muslim holy month could further inflame tensions.

McCaul said he’ll be traveling to Saudi Arabia next month to discuss a potential security agreement among Saudi Arabia, the United States and Israel, to produce a united front against Iran and its proxies. He had dinner at the Saudi Embassy with other lawmakers on Thursday to discuss the possibility.

Saudi Arabia, he said, is “interested in getting this done as soon as possible — in fact I think there will be a draft document prior to my trip in March.”

The first part of the deal would be a security agreement with the U.S. including weapons sales, he explained. But he said that Saudi Arabia’s push for a civil nuclear program would be “more difficult.” He said that would require “sufficient controls” to prevent Saudi Arabia from militarizing the program. And such a program would likely “spook the Iranians.”

Ultimately, he said that skeptics of such an arrangement with Saudi Arabia — including many Democrats — will have to decide whether they’d rather see Saudi Arabia ally with Russia and China in place of the U.S., “because that’s your choice.”

In a change from prewar discussions, McCaul indicated that a Saudi-U.S. deal would serve as a precursor to a Saudi-Israel deal, rather than both happening concurrently. He said that a follow-on Saudi-Israel deal could be a path to a two-state solution, given that any Saudi-Israel deal would require assurances relating to the future peaceful coexistence of Israelis and Palestinians and Palestinian self-governance.

He said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanuyahu will face a choice for his legacy: “He can go down as this wartime president or he can go down as the president who finally brought peace to the Middle East.”

McCaul also warned about the advanced state of Iran’s nuclear program, saying that it could reach weapons-grade uranium “overnight.” He said Iran still lacks the ability to miniaturize a nuclear warhead, which will “buy us a little time,” but does have ballistic missiles and is working to develop or acquire intercontinental ballistic missiles and hypersonic weapons.

McCaul also warned against growing isolationism in his party, comparing the current moment to the pre-World War II period and efforts to appease Adolf Hitler. He likened Russian President Vladimir Putin to Hitler himself, saying that Putin won’t stop at conquering Ukraine if he’s allowed to succeed.

He attributed the growing isolationist tendency among Republicans to the relative youth of many members of Congress who, he noted, didn’t experience the Cold War firsthand, but did live through the “forever wars” in Iraq and Afghanistan, and are afraid of the U.S. being pulled into another such war.

McCaul added that some people “don’t see Russia as our adversary anymore. And there’s so much disinformation that’s come from Russia into the American press that they are empathetic and sympathetic to Putin.”

He also blamed failed strategy and failed messaging from the Biden administration, which he said had slow-walked more powerful weapons to Ukraine especially early in the war.

“The administration has failed to explain why [this is] in our national security interest,” he argued. “It’s hard for — in my party — to go back home and say, ‘Well, I support this president’s efforts in Ukraine’ when he mishandled it.”

Also on Friday, a bipartisan group of House moderates introduced a new foreign aid bill that would scale back funding for Israel by several billion dollars, as compared to the Senate-passed bill and the president’s request, in addition to removing humanitarian aid for Palestinians and support for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program.

The bipartisan bill was proposed by Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Jared Golden (D-ME), Don Bacon (R-NE), Ed Case (D-HI), Mike Lawler (R-NY), Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (D-WA), Lori Chavez-DeRemer (R-OR) and Jim Costa (D-CA).

Their proposal includes $10.4 billion to support Israel, a more than 25% cut from the $14.1 billion included in the Senate bill and the president’s initial aid request. The two bills appropriate the same amounts for Israeli missile defense and Iron Beam, however — $4 billion for Iron Dome and David’s Sling, and $1.2 billion for Iron Beam development.

Most Democrats are likely to oppose the proposal because it doesn’t provide aid to the Palestinians and adds restrictive new immigration provisions. Conservative Republicans continue to oppose aid to Ukraine in any form.

McCaul also expressed skepticism, arguing that there are “ways to deal with humanitarian assistance… more intelligent than just zeroing out the account.” For Gaza, he argued that the U.S. should be redirecting aid toward private NGOs, the World Food Program and other groups with better track records than the U.N. Relief and Works Agency.

AIPAC spokesperson Marshall Wittmann told JI that the group is “encouraged that members of the House are seeking to move the process forward on a bipartisan basis.” But, he added, it’s “essential that any ultimate compromise fully fund the president’s emergency aid request for Israel, and we believe a strong majority in both the House and Senate supports that position.”

Democrats are likely to continue to look for workarounds to bring the Senate-passed bipartisan bill to the House floor in spite of Republican leaders’ objections. But this proposal could indicate that some of the moderate Republicans who could be needed to facilitate such an effort have reservations about the Senate’s bill.

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