How did the White House convince Mike Johnson to support Ukraine aid?


the The Senate voted on Tuesday to approve New aid for Ukraine This culminated in six months of public pressure and private initiatives by the White House to mobilize support, including the no small task of winning the support of House Speaker Mike Johnson.

For months, President Joe Biden and his team have pressed the case for additional aid publicly and privately, tending to court Johnson — whose young boss has come under pressure from his right flank — behind the scenes with White House meetings, phone calls and detailed briefings on matters. Battlefield effects, administration officials said.

Faced with leadership dynamics in the House GOP conference that is increasingly resistant to more aid, Biden directed his team to use every opportunity to make the consequences of inaction directly to Johnson. Administration officials said that included warnings about what it might mean not only for Ukraine, but also for Europe and the United States, if Russian President Vladimir Putin succeeds.

The president specifically urged his team to provide a complete intelligence picture of the situation on the battlefield in Ukraine in their conversations with the Speaker of the House and his staff as well as to discuss the national security implications for the United States, the officials said. This push continued over the next six months – starting with the Situation Room briefing the day after Johnson took over as speaker.

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young briefed the Speaker and other key lawmakers on how aid to Ukraine is running out, putting the country's efforts to fight Russia at risk. Biden stopped by the meeting and met Johnson on the side to convey a similar message. Sullivan followed this up four days later with a call to Johnson to highlight the procedures in place to track aid in Ukraine.

But Johnson quickly made clear that aid to Ukraine and Israel should be separated — an approach that the White House has opposed and that will be tested again and again in the coming months.

The ordeal ended on Tuesday when the Senate approved it Approval of a foreign aid package worth $95 billion With nearly $61 billion for Ukraine, it represents a long-awaited foreign policy victory for Biden, who has spent the past two years drumming up Western support for the war-torn country in its fight against Russia. Meanwhile, the president was waging his own battle at home to get more aid approved amid resistance from some Republicans. Biden signed the legislation — which also provides more than $26 billion for Israel and humanitarian aid and more than $8 billion for the Indo-Pacific region, including Taiwan — on Wednesday morning.

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He alluded to the long process of passing the aid in a speech marking the bill becoming law, saying: “I am grateful to all the members of Congress — Democrats, Republicans and independents — who voted for this bill. The road to my office was a difficult one. It should have been easier and it would have been easier.” “It should get there sooner. But in the end, we did what America always does: We rose to the moment, came together and got it done.”

Biden sought to promote an aggressive aid package early on, using an Oval Office speech in mid-October to link Ukraine's fight against Russia to Israel's emerging war with Hamas, as he prepared to submit a new funding request to Congress.

“Hamas and Putin represent different threats, but they have this in common: They both want to completely eliminate a democracy next door, completely destroy it,” Biden said in that speech. “We cannot allow petty, angry partisan politics to get in the way of our responsibilities as a great nation. We cannot and will not allow terrorists like Hamas and tyrants like Putin to win.”

Less than a week after that speech, the White House faced the task of working with a new Speaker of the House who was relatively unknown to them and had previously voted against aid to Ukraine as a rank-and-file member.

The president instructed his team to stay in regular contact with Johnson, House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a strong supporter of more aid to Ukraine.

Another early directive from the president to his team — try to refrain from targeted attacks against Johnson as much as possible, and instead focus on the greater need for Republicans to act, hopefully giving more space for productive talks.

“He kept saying, ‘Keep talking. Keep working.' You know, keep finding ways to resolve differences. “That was his trend,” said Steve Ricchetti, an adviser to the president.

Ricchetti and Shawanza Goff, the director of legislative affairs, served as the main conduits between the White House and Johnson and his team. Ricchetti has spoken regularly with Johnson over the past four weeks and traveled to Capitol Hill with Gove to meet with Johnson and his team in December and March. They spoke frequently with Johnson's staff, including meetings at the White House and on Capitol Hill.

Meanwhile, White House Chief of Staff Jeff Zients, Ricchetti and Goff spoke with Schumer, Jeffries and their staffs almost daily to strategize on how to move aid to Ukraine forward. Zients, Ricchetti, Goff and Young have also remained in regular contact with McConnell, who has been eager to advance the effort in the Senate.

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The administration has also facilitated regular briefings to members of the House of Representatives on Ukraine, working closely with the chairs of the bipartisan national security committees, including House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul and House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Michael Turner.

CIA Director Bill Burns hosted Johnson's staff in late March to talk about the dire situation in Ukraine, as well as briefings by the Republican chairs of relevant national security committees.

US Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink met with Johnson, McConnell and other GOP senators as well as Republican staff in the House and Senate. The Defense Department held briefings for House Republicans, and the administration also briefed Reps. Chip Roy of Texas and Ralph Norman of South Carolina at Johnson's request, administration officials said.

At the White House, Biden's senior team gathered at an oval table in Zients' office every morning to review how to underscore the need for more aid. Those meetings included Zients, Ricchetti, Goff, Young, Senior Advisor Anita Dunn, Sullivan, and Deputy National Security Advisor John Finer.

Just after Thanksgiving, the president urged his advisers to make clear that funding was drying up and that Congress needed to act. Young, Sullivan, and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met with congressional leadership to convey this message. Young sent a strongly worded letter to lawmakers warning that the United States would do just that “Ukraine kneecaps on the battlefield” if funding is not approved.

The White House even asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to make a direct presentation to Johnson at a meeting just before Christmas in Washington, DC. But even Biden seemed to acknowledge this The difficult road ahead for Ukraine During his meeting with Zelensky at the White House, he said the United States would continue to provide weapons and military equipment to the country “for as long as possible,” a slight shift from his previous pledge to support Ukraine “as long as it takes.”

After entering the year without an agreement, President Johnson invited McConnell, Jeffries, Schumer, and the chairs of the National Security Committee to the White House to make the case for aid to Ukraine. Sullivan and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines outlined specific examples of the potential ramifications of Ukraine not receiving additional U.S. funding.

But those conversations also revealed the need for action to address the influx of migrants at the southern US border, which has become too big a political problem for the president and his aides to ignore. Republican and Democratic senators have been working for months on a border security measure coupled with aid to Ukraine and Israel. A bipartisan group of senators came in last together in a deal in early February The door seemed to be open.

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At the request of former President Donald TrumpThe door was closed and the deal collapsed. Biden publicly blamed Republicans in Congress Failed package

Senate leaders then moved forward with a complementary bipartisan national security package without a border agreement soon after, putting the ball back in Johnson's court in the House.

Biden hosted Johnson and congressional leaders again at the White House at the end of February to discuss efforts to avoid a partial government shutdown and push for greater aid to Ukraine. Burns was on hand to explain how Ukraine was affected as its forces dealt with low ammunition as the aid bill slowed as the war passed two years.

In the six weeks that followed, administration officials saw a growing sense of urgency as lawmakers continued to receive more assessments and briefings on the battlefield scene. But Iran's attack on Israel on April 13 It also changed the dynamic, with momentum for construction aid in Israel in the following days.

A day after the attack, Johnson signaled to Jeffries that he was willing to support foreign aid, a move that angered his right flank and jeopardized the future of his presidency. Biden and Johnson spoke by phone the next day as the House Speaker briefed him on his plan to move forward with the aid package. The spokesman told reporters that he went ahead with the aid vote due to “accelerating events around the world.”

Burns' briefing, which painted a bleak picture of the situation on the battlefield in Ukraine and the global consequences of inaction, was part of Johnson's motivations for pushing the aid package forward, even as his political future lay in the balance, sources previously told CNN. Air.

The House of Representatives finally passed the $95 billion aid package on Saturday — a moment Biden celebrated in separate calls with the Speaker and Jeffries. The aid measure for Ukraine passed with the support of 210 Democrats and 101 Republicans

Before the final passage, Biden spoke with Zelensky on Monday, assuring him that help was on the way after months of waiting.

“We discussed the contents of the upcoming US military aid package,” Zelensky said. He added: “The president assured me that the package would be approved quickly and that it would be powerful and would strengthen our air defense as well as our long-range and artillery capabilities.”

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