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With House speaker at his side, Trump suggests Ukraine aid should be loan

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson speaks as Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump listens during a news conference at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., April 12, 2024.
Speaker of the House Mike Johnson speaks as Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump listens during a news conference at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., April 12, 2024.

An inexperienced House speaker facing a brewing intraparty rebellion as he seeks bipartisan compromise to push through defense funding for Ukraine and Israel got a boost on Friday from the presumptive Republican party presidential nominee, Donald Trump.

"He's doing a really good job under very tough circumstances," Trump, at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, said at the start of a news conference with House Speaker Mike Johnson.

Trump suggested Republicans push for making additional U.S. military aid to Ukraine "in the form of a loan rather than a gift."

Johnson, a Republican congressman from the state of Louisiana who has been House speaker since October, made no statement about the aid. But Trump's stance is likely to hold sway over many House Republicans.

Johnson, according to Republican Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, has been negotiating with the White House about a package that would deviate from the Senate's $95 billion foreign security legislation.

The most contentious elements involve aid for Ukraine, locked in a defensive war against Russia, and for Israel, which has been on the offensive in Gaza against Hamas.

Johnson's job in jeopardy

Johnson, relatively unknown on the national stage when he emerged as a compromise candidate among Republicans to become House speaker, finds his job in jeopardy. Republicans are bitterly divided on further U.S. military aid for Ukraine.

"I'm not giving Ukraine any money, never have, never will," responded Representative Troy Nehls to a question from VOA's Ukrainian Service on Thursday. "Can anybody tell me what the strategy is for Ukraine?"

Nehls — who is among the Republican lawmakers who falsely assert the 2020 presidential election was "rigged" in favor of President Joe Biden — predicted if Trump is again elected president in November, Russian forces "will be out of Ukraine by April 1st."

Another Republican in the House, Keith Self of the state of Texas, wants any support for Ukraine tied to increased funding for security at the U.S. Southern border with Mexico.

Self told VOA that while Kyiv awaits further aid from Washington, it should turn to European countries for help.

"I think Europe is starting to realize that they need to take care of their own backyard," said Self, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

If Johnson is seen as acceding to the desires of Democrats, it would likely expand the number of Republican lawmakers dissatisfied with his leadership.

Johnson is compelled to work with the Democrats on major legislation because his party retains a thin majority in the House.

Democrats disagree about Israel

The Democratic Party leader in the House, Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New Jersey, has suggested Democrats will help Johnson retain his position if the speaker helps push over the finish line the national security package sent by the Senate, where Democrats enjoy a majority, to the Republican-controlled House chamber.

The Democrats face their own disagreement over the bill, with some opposing sending offensive weaponry from the United States to Israel while it engages in its campaign in Gaza that, according to the Hamas-controlled health ministry, has killed more than 33,000 Palestinians.

"I'm looking at the possibility of a Ukraine-only [funding] bill" to avoid further delays, Representative Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat from the state of Washington who is chair of the left-wing congressional progressive caucus, told VOA's Ukrainian Service.

Not aiding Ukraine "is malpractice on our part," according to Representative Madeleine Dean, who termed the hesitation among some lawmakers in both parties "literally un-American" and appeasing Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"I can't tell you how strongly I feel about it, how upset and angry I am," the Pennsylvania Democrat added as she became emotional on the steps of the Capitol.

The task of reaching consensus in the House rests primarily on the shoulders of Johnson, a hard-right litigator who voted against certifying the 2020 presidential election. The Trump loyalist is the least experienced speaker in nearly a century and a half.

Johnson's visit on Friday to Trump's Florida resort home was seen as an attempt by the weakened House speaker to be shored up by the former president. Trump's backing has been pivotal for top Republicans to stay in their positions or gain them.

His lack of support for the previously elected House speaker, Kevin McCarthy of California, and Republican National Committee Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel led to exits from their respective leadership jobs.

Kateryna Lisunova on Capitol Hill contributed to this report.