In the latest indication that Republican senators are deeply divided on the issue of tying aid to Ukraine to funding for Israel, Sen. Lindsey Graham said it would be a “huge mistake” to separate the two after listening to the testimony from Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday.
“I am in favor of keeping the package together. I think Secretary Blinken and Austin have made a good case for why we shouldn’t divide it,” he told reporters outside the hearing, a notable change after indicating Monday that he would be open to passing a standalone bill to support Israel.
“Ultimately, I think all of these conflicts need to be resolved firmly, and they need to be addressed together,” Graham continued.
South Carolina senator’s comments arrive as Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell — along with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and the White House — are pushing to pass an aid package that funds both countries, even as the new Republican House Speaker, Mike Johnson, has said he hoped that a stand-alone aid package for Israel would be affected. the House floor Thursday.
McConnell has argued that the two wars are essential to American security and must be tied together, a position expressed by other senior Republicans and by the Biden White House, which formally threatened to veto the draft stand-alone Israel Aid Act from the House in a statement released Tuesday. But a significant bloc of Republican senators believes the two should be separated.
“At the risk of repeating myself, the threats facing America and our allies are serious and they are intertwined,” McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said on the Senate floor Tuesday. “If we ignore this fact, we do so at our peril. »
Sen. Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah and a supporter of aid to Ukraine, made a similar argument to CNN. in favor of a link between the two wars and declared that ultimately, he doesn’t believe a standalone package could pass both chambers.
“There may be an effort by a small, vocal minority to try to move the dog, if you will. But that won’t happen, I don’t believe it. I think in the final analysis you will see that the vast majority of people in the House and the Senate will get what they want,” he told CNN. “My view is that the vast majority of members of the House, as well as the vast majority of senators, together support Ukraine and Israel. »
Romney also opposed the House proposal to cut Internal Revenue Service funds to finance an aid program for Israel, saying it “doesn’t make a lot of sense” to cut funding for ‘an institution that ensures that people pay their taxes in Israel. complete.
But Senate Republicans remain divided over McConnell’s willingness to tie Ukraine aid to an Israel package – with a number of his conservative colleagues saying they should follow the House’s lead and propose the package first. Israel package.
Republican Sen. Rand Paul attacked his fellow Kentuckian, accusing him of trying to undermine incoming President Johnson and arguing that the conservative base would reject McConnell’s approach.
“I think he’s wrong,” Paul told CNN. “I think if you compare that with his opinion during the debt ceiling deal, it was sort of hands-off, we have to wait and give the House room, it’s sort of the opposite approach here.”
Paul also said he supports Johnson’s effort to cancel $14.3 billion in IRS money to pay for a standalone bill to fund Israel, adding that he believes the Senate’s top Republican “attempted” to harm Johnson.
“I think he’s trying to do it, and I think it’s a mistake because it’s also a challenge to most of the 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 it will ultimately fail or bring down the speaker, which I don’t think will be a good idea.”
Sen. Rick Scott, a Florida Republican who challenged McConnell for minority leader last year, also said he thinks the Senate should follow the lead of the House Republican Party and “not not weaken” the newly elected president.
“We have a Republican majority in the House and so we should listen to them in the way they want to proceed,” he said. “I understand that President Johnson has been clear. He is not going to combine aid to Ukraine with aid to Israel. And I completely agree with him.
Freshman Sen. Eric Schmitt, a Republican from Missouri, acknowledged that McConnell’s desire to link the two issues was wrong in his view.
“I don’t think it should be related, and we should separate it,” he told CNN. “There is a growing sentiment within our conference in favor of this.”
Republican Sen. Josh Hawley, also of Missouri, criticized McConnell’s push for aid to Ukraine to also be included in the supplement, calling it a “mistake.”
“I think it’s remarkable that he’s standing with Schumer against the Republicans,” he told CNN.
While the Senate Republican Party remained divided on the issue, Senate Democrats were in lockstep when sounding the alarm. Schumer ridiculed the House bill on Tuesday, calling it “insulting” after telling CNN on Monday that Johnson’s willingness to include spending cuts made Israeli aid “much harder to pass.” through the upper house.
Schumer said he was disappointed by Johnson’s bill that does not include funding for Ukraine but cuts funding for the IRS, suggesting the speaker should have learned from the failures of his predecessors and insisting that “emergency foreign aid should not be compensated”.
“Recipe for disaster,” Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy said of the House GOP’s approach. And Sen. Joe Manchin, Democrat of West Virginia, said Monday that the Republican Party’s desire to separate the two issues was a “mistake.”
Sen. Chris Coons, a close ally of President Joe Biden, also attacked House Republicans’ plan to offset funding to Israel by arguing that it would “reduce revenue” in the long term.
“President Johnson’s top priority as president is providing aid to Israel and reducing revenues to the federal government. That doesn’t seem like much to me,” he said.
CNN’s Haley Talbot and Kristin Wilson contributed to this report.