Johnson outlines aid plan for Ukraine; House could act within weeks

President Mike Johnson has begun publicly outlining potential conditions for extending a new round of American military assistance to Ukraine, the strongest indication yet that he intends to push through the House a package that many Republicans view as toxic and have tried to block.

Its conditions could include tying aid for Kiev to a measure that would force President Biden to lift a moratorium on new permits for liquefied natural gas export facilities, something Republicans would see as a political victory against the climate agenda of the Democratic president. The move would also give Johnson a powerful parochial victory, unlocking a proposed export terminal in his home state of Louisiana that would be located along a shipping channel connecting the Gulf of Mexico to Lake Charles.

“When we come back after this period of work, we will move one product, but it will have some major innovations in it,” Johnson said in an interview on Fox News on Sunday.

That strongly suggests that the Ukraine aid package, which has been stalled for months on Capitol Hill due to Republican resistance, could clear Congress in a matter of weeks. He enjoys strong support among Democrats and a broad coalition of mainstream Republicans, and the main obstacle standing in his way in the House has been Johnson's refusal to raise the issue in the face of vehement far-right opposition in the GOP to sending more aid to Kiev.

But after the Senate approved a $95 billion aid package for Ukraine and Israel, and with Johnson facing pressure from the Biden administration and NATO allies, the Republican speaker sought a path forward with the bill that would cause the least political backlash. in its own ranks.

Now, the question appears to be not whether Johnson will allow aid to be questioned, but in what form and when.

In the interview, he openly discussed how to structure the aid, saying he hadn't come to any final decisions on what he would put to a vote but that he had “worked to build that consensus” among House Republicans.

Johnson cited the REPO Act, which would pay for some of the aid by selling off Russian sovereign assets that have been frozen, as an idea under consideration.

“If we can use the assets confiscated from Russian oligarchs to allow Ukrainians to fight them, that is pure poetry,” he said.

American officials had previously been skeptical of the idea, warning that there was no precedent for seizing large sums of money from another sovereign nation and that the move could trigger legal ramifications and unpredictable economic consequences. Only about $5 billion of Russian assets are in the hands of US institutions; More than $300 billion in Russian central bank assets are hidden in Western countries.

But the Biden administration has quietly accepted the idea at a time when financial support for Ukraine is declining.

Johnson also floated the idea of ​​sending part of the aid in the form of a loan, underlining that “even President Trump has spoken” about this concept.

And he mentioned an idea he first raised privately in February, in a White House meeting with Biden and other congressional leaders, of tying aid to the lifting of the Biden administration's pause on liquefied natural gas exports . He and other Republicans have argued that by banning American exports of domestic energy, the administration has effectively increased dependence on Russian gas and indirectly financed President Vladimir V. Putin's offensive against Ukraine. He cited the case of Calcasieu Pass 2, the proposed export terminal in Louisiana.

“We want to unleash American energy,” Johnson said. “We want to have natural gas exports that will help defund Vladimir Putin's war effort in that country.”

Taken together, the measures outlined by Johnson appear aimed at convincing skeptical Republicans that, at a minimum, the cost of the relief package would be offset. Although he didn't mention it on Sunday, he also considered advancing new sanctions against Russia.

The reversal of the moratorium on liquefied natural gas, in particular, could represent a powerful political incentive for Republicans, increasing pressure on the White House to abandon a policy they have long denounced.

The administration suspended new export permits after months of protests by environmental activists, who argued that adding new gas export facilities would block decades of additional emissions of greenhouse gases, the main driver of climate change. The administration has said it will take time to analyze the impact of the new permits on the climate, national security and the economy.

The United States is still exporting more liquefied natural gas than any other country, and export capacity will double by 2027 because the government has already approved a handful of new export terminals, which are under construction.

Johnson's search for a politically viable option to finance Ukraine's attempts to repel Russian attacks places him in the middle of two powerful and opposing forces. His party's far-right flank, led by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and egged on by former President Donald J. Trump, urged him not to allow a vote on aid to Ukraine, arguing that the United States should not pay funds tens of billions of dollars into another country's war. But leaders of most NATO countries have warned Johnson that failure to extend aid to Kiev could spell doom for the young democracy, a message that has been echoed by mainstream Republicans, Biden and Democrats.

Ms. Greene introduced a resolution calling for Mr. Johnson's removal late last month, before the House left Washington for recess, saying she wanted to send him “a warning.”

Mr. Johnson on Sunday called the move a “distraction from our mission,” but said he shared Ms. Greene's frustration over spending Congress approved to prevent government shutdowns and planned to speak with her this week.

At the same time, Johnson continued to face pressure from leaders around the world who sought to make him understand the costs of US inaction.

Johnson and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke by phone Thursday, and Zelensky briefed the speaker on the dire battlefield situation in Ukraine and urged a “rapid passage” of aid.

Zelensky said they discussed “the importance of cutting off Russia's sources of financing for its war as soon as possible and using frozen Russian assets for the benefit of Ukraine.”

“We recognize that there are differing opinions in the House of Representatives on how to proceed,” the Ukrainian president wrote on social media, “but the key is to keep the issue of aid to Ukraine as a unifying factor.”

Brad Plumer AND Lisa Friedmann contributed to the reporting.

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