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Funding for Ukraine and Israel is causing rifts in Congress

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Well, the war in Gaza is also dominating the conversation here in Washington today. The House plans to vote this week on an aid package for Israel. It includes just over $14 billion, mostly in military aid. And it would pay for that spending with cuts to the IRS. The bill is the first major legislation from new House speaker Mike Johnson. Democrats say the bill is a non-starter. Johnson is also facing opposition from senators in his own party, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. NPR congressional reporter Eric McDaniel is following all this from the Capitol. Hey, Eric.

ERIC MCDANIEL, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Let's start with what Congress is doing. What's going on right now when it comes to Israel?

MCDANIEL: Well, the Senate confirmed this afternoon Jack Lew. That's Biden's pick to be the ambassador to Israel. The next thing on the agenda, like you mentioned, is passing an aid package. But there is a real disagreement going on between the House and the Senate about just what that should look like. House Republicans are saying just the aid to Israel. But that idea, it puts them at odds with President Biden, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and even Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who says he wants to see a combined package. So that's aid to Israel with Ukraine and money to Taiwan and money for the U.S.-Mexico border. McConnell told reporters this afternoon that he sees it all as connected to protecting America's interests.

KELLY: And where do the rest of Republicans in the Senate line up on this? Are they on board with how McConnell sees it?

MCDANIEL: I mean, it depends, right? So the folks you would think of is more closely aligned with former President Donald Trump, they support the House's proposal - separate Israel aid from Ukraine aid and the rest. Our colleague Vincent Acovino caught up with Josh Hawley of Missouri, and he called McConnell's push to combine things a mistake and said there's no time to wait on Israel.

JOSH HAWLEY: My point is, let's do this right now, this week, immediately. Let's get this done. And then we can have a debate on Ukraine and on the southern border and on Taiwan and on all the other funding the administration wants, a lot of which is going to be controversial.

MCDANIEL: But, look, there's a contingent of Senate Republicans who support McConnell's approach here, like Utah's Mitt Romney, who I talked to earlier this afternoon.

MITT ROMNEY: Ultimately, I believe the final legislation is going to deal with Ukraine and Israel together. That's because the great majority of people in both the House and the Senate want that to occur.

MCDANIEL: Whatever the Senate agrees to, it's going to have to be bipartisan. That's because of the 60-vote threshold it will take to get something out of the chamber.

KELLY: Well, there's an urgency here, of course, Eric. We've heard President Biden talk about that - about how urgent these aid requests are. But what you're telling us is the House and the Senate are really far apart. Members of the same party are really far apart. Could this whole thing fall apart?

MCDANIEL: Look, no one's made money betting on Congress recently, so it's going to be hard to say. But it's true that the Biden administration has made its concerns known. They're pressing Congress on this. Both Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and the secretary of state, Antony Blinken, they testified before the Senate today on the issue. And then Blinken made his way over to the House side here at the Capitol building. He met with Mike Johnson in his office. But I'm interested to watch what happens next. Is Johnson going to try and convince his fellow House Republicans to support a combined bill, or is he going to dig in his heels by insisting on splitting these aid bills apart?

And, Mary Louise, can I just take a second to remind folks, Congress doesn't have time to dilly-dally here? There's these aid bills, sure, but they also have to pass a bill to keep the government open past November 17.

KELLY: Which is coming right up. NPR's Eric McDaniel. Thank you.

MCDANIEL: Thank you. 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.

Eric McDaniel
Eric McDaniel edits the NPR Politics Podcast. He joined the program ahead of its 2019 relaunch as a daily podcast.