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Ukraine and Israel aid bills split Texans in Congress — but not along party lines

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Ukraine and Israel aid bills split Texans in Congress — but not along party lines

Apr 20, 2024 | 2:11 pm ET
By Matthew Choi
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WASHINGTON — The U.S. House on Saturday passed foreign military and civilian aid legislation that was the subject of tortured negotiations during which two Texas Republicans led the opposing camps.

The House voted on four bills. Three will collectively provide nearly $100 billion in aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. Another sanctions U.S. adversaries and mandates TikTok be sold from its Chinese owner.

Most centrist Republicans and Democrats have pushed the legislation as essential for protecting U.S. interests and stability abroad. Hardline conservatives, though, bemoaned extended relief for other countries before tightening security at the U.S.-Mexico border .

U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, was one of the fiercest advocates for the foreign aid legislation. He chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee and is a firm believer in strong investment in U.S. defense and alliances. He criticized the Biden administration for bungling the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, which he said emboldened Russian President Vladimir Putin to invade Ukraine.

On the other end of the Republican spectrum, fellow Austin Republican Chip Roy, the policy chair of the hardline House Freedom Caucus, fought the legislation for weeks. Roy tried to use his seat on the House Rules Committee, which decides how bills are debated on the House floor, to stop the legislation Thursday. But that effort failed after Democrats on the committee advanced the bills.

All 14 Texas Democrats and 9 Republicans were among the 311 members who voted for the Ukraine aid. The nine no votes were Republican Reps. Keith Self, Randy Weber, Beth Van Duyne, Roger Williams, August Pfluger, Troy Nehls, Morgan Luttrell, Ronny Jackson, Lance Gooden, Pat Fallon, Monica De La Cruz, Michael Cloud, Brian Babin, Jodey Arrington and Roy. One Texas Republican, Wesley Hunt, did not cast a vote for any of the bills.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the upper chamber would likely vote on the bills on Tuesday.

From the House floor Saturday, McCaul said failure to defend Ukraine will only embolden Chinese President Xi Jinping to invade Taiwan, a key U.S. ally in Asia. Urgency for legislation to help Israel also escalated after Iran launched drone strikes on Israeli soil last week in retaliation for the bombing of an Iranian embassy building in Syria.

“These dictators including North Korea are all tied together. We cannot separate them. We don’t pick our enemies — they choose us,” McCaul said. “I often think about the blood and treasure that could have been saved had we stopped Hitler earlier. Now we are faced with that same opportunity.”

McCaul also referenced his father serving in World War II.

“So as we deliberate on this vote, you have to ask yourself this question: Am I Chamberlain or Churchill?” McCaul said.

McCaul sponsored the sanctions and TikTok legislation. The House passed a similar bill targeting TikTok last month. The version included in Saturday’s package was largely the same but gave TikTok more time to find a non-Chinese buyer.

Roy and other hardline conservatives, though, are wary of wading into costly and prolonged conflicts overseas. They argued that Congress should focus the country’s limited resources on defending its own borders.

"We're being told we've got to continue to fund a war in Ukraine before the American border is secure," Roy said at a news conference at the Capitol on Thursday. "Well, not on our watch. We're gonna throw everything we have at stopping this foolish capitulation by Republican leadership."

House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-Louisiana, has previously shown skepticism for continued aid to Ukraine. Members of his party’s right flank kept threatened ousting him from the speakership should he move forward on the legislation. But after mounting pressure from the White House, congressional Democrats and Senate Republicans — and following the Iranian strikes on Israel — Johnson vocally supported the legislation.

"History judges us for what we do. This is a critical time right now,” Johnson said at a news conference Wednesday. “To put it bluntly, I would rather send bullets to Ukraine than American boys.”

Several progressive Democrats opposed the Israel aid bill, insisting on measures to ensure the money doesn’t contribute to inhumane treatment of Palestinians.

“All of us have seen the tragedy in Gaza. We have seen how Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government has used American weapons to kill indiscriminately, to force famine. Over 25,000 women and children dead,” U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, said on the House floor. “We have to decide what we are going to do about it. Are we going to participate in that carnage or not?”

Castro is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee with McCaul. Other members who voted against the Israel aid bill included U.S. Reps. Greg Casar, Al Green, and Lloyd Doggett. They all voted for the other foreign aid and national security bills.

Nehls and Roy also voted against the Israel aid bill.

The House also voted Saturday on the End the Border Catastrophe Act, a pared back version of House Republican border bill passed last year that hardliners assert was the minimum for border security legislation. But the bill required a two-thirds majority and failed Saturday. Only five Democrats voted for the bill, including U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, who represents a portion of the Texas-Mexico border. U.S. Rep. Colin Allred, who is running against Ted Cruz to represent Texas in the Senate, did not case a vote on that bill despite voting in favor of the other three bills.

Roy denounced the bill as only being included to sweeten the deal for the foreign aid legislation — even though it had no real chance of success.

“The Republican Speaker of the House is seeking a rule to pass almost $100 billion in foreign aid - while unquestionably, dangerous criminals, terrorists, & fentanyl pour across our border. The border ‘vote’ in this package is a watered-down dangerous cover vote,” Roy posted on social media on Wednesday. “I will oppose.”


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Correction, : A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that no Texas Democrats voted for the End the Border Catastrophe Act. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez voted in favor of it.