In the latest indication that Republican senators are deeply divided over tying aid for Ukraine to Israel funding, Sen. Lindsey Graham said it would be a “huge mistake” to separate the two after listening to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin testify before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday.
“I support the package staying together. I think Secretary Blinken and Austin gave a good answer why we should not break it apart,” he told reporters outside the hearing, a notable shift after he indicated Monday that he would be open to passing a standalone bill to support Israel.
“At the end of the day, I think all of these conflicts have to be dealt with strongly, and they should be dealt with together,” Graham continued.
The South Carolina senator’s comments come as Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell – along with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and the White House – push to pass an aid package that funds both countries, even as the new Republican speaker of the House, Mike Johnson, said that he hopes to have a standalone aid package for Israel hit the House floor on Thursday.
Speaker Johnson will meet for the first time with the full Senate GOP Conference at today Wednesday, according to a GOP aide.
McConnell has argued that the two wars are central to US security and must be tied together, a position voiced by other senior Republicans and the Biden White House, which formally threatened to veto the House’s standalone Israel aid bill in a statement Tuesday. But a sizable bloc of GOP senators believes the two should be separated.
“At the risk of repeating myself, the threats facing America and our allies are serious and they’re intertwined,” McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said on the Senate floor Tuesday. “If we ignore that fact, we do so at our own peril.”
Sen. Mitt Romney, a Utah Republican and backer of aid to Ukraine, made a similar argument to CNN in support of linking the two wars and said that, ultimately, he doesn’t believe a standalone package will pass both chambers.
“There may be an effort on the part of a small vocal minority to try and wag the dog, if you will. But that’s not going to happen, I don’t believe. I think in the final analysis, you’ll see the great majority of people in the House and the Senate have their way,” he told CNN. “My view is that the substantial majority of members of the House, as well as the substantial majority of senators, support for Ukraine and Israel, combined.”
Romney also pushed back against the House proposal to cut money from the Internal Revenue Service to pay for an Israel aid package, saying that it “doesn’t make a lot of sense” to reduce funding for an institution that ensures people pay their taxes in full.
But Senate Republicans remain divided over McConnell’s push to link Ukraine aid to an Israel package – with a number of his conservative colleagues saying they should follow the House’s lead and move the Israel package first.
Republican Sen. Rand Paul attacked his fellow Kentuckian, accusing him of attempting to undercut newly minted Speaker Johnson and arguing that the conservative base will reject McConnell’s approach.
“I think he’s wrong,” Paul told CNN. “I think that if you contrast it with his opinion during the debt ceiling deal, it was like sort of hands off, we got to wait and give the House room, it’s sort of the opposite approach here.”
Paul also said he backs Johnson’s push to rescind $14.3 billion in IRS enforcement money to pay for a stand-alone bill to fund Israel, adding that he believes the top Senate Republican is “attempting to” hurt Johnson.
“I think he’s attempting to, and I think it’s a mistake because it’s also in defiance of most conservatives in the party,” Paul told CNN. “So I think McConnell’s position is very, very unpopular in Kentucky but also very, very unpopular in the United States, and I think ultimately will fail or bring down the speaker, which I don’t think is a good idea.”
Sen. Rick Scott, a Florida Republican who challenged McConnell for minority leader last year, also said he believes the Senate should follow the House GOP’s lead and “not undermine” the newly elected speaker.
“We have a Republican majority of the House and so we ought to be listening to the way they want to do it,” he said. “My understanding is Speaker Johnson’s been clear. He is going to not put Ukraine aid together with aid for Israel. And I completely agree with him.”
Freshman Sen. Eric Schmitt, a Missouri Republican, agreed that McConnell’s push to tie the two issues together is misguided in his view.
“I don’t think it should be linked together, and we ought to separate it,” he told CNN. “There’s a growing sentiment in our conference to do that.”
GOP Sen. Josh Hawley, also of Missouri, criticized McConnell’s push for Ukraine aid to be included in the supplemental as well, calling it a “mistake.”
“I think it’s notable that he’s standing with Schumer over against the Republicans,” he told CNN.
While the Senate GOP has remained divided on the issue, Senate Democrats have been in lockstep as they sound the alarm. Schumer on Tuesday derided the House bill as “insulting” after telling CNN Monday that Johnson’s push to include spending cuts makes Israel aid “much harder to pass” the upper chamber.
Schumer said he’s disappointed by Johnson’s bill that doesn’t include funding for Ukraine but cuts IRS enforcement funding, suggesting the speaker should have learned from the failures of his predecessors, and insisting that “emergency foreign aid should not be offset.”
“Recipe for disaster,” Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy said of the House GOP’s approach. And Sen. Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Democrat, said Monday the GOP push to separate the two issues was a “mistake.”
Sen. Chris Coons, a close ally of President Joe Biden, also attacked the House Republicans’ plan to offset the funding for Israel by arguing it will “reduce revenue” in the long run.
“Speaker Johnson’s top priority as speaker is to provide aid to Israel and cut revenue to the federal government. Doesn’t sound like a great deal to me,” he said.
This story has been updated with additional developments.
CNN’s Haley Talbot and Kristin Wilson contributed to this report.
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