U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul dismisses House GOP Israel package as going nowhere

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WASHINGTON — House Foreign Affairs Chair Michael McCaul acknowledged House Speaker Mike Johnson's recent aid package for Israel is destined to fail and advocated instead for legislation that links help for the Jewish state with continued support for Ukraine.

“The exercise you saw last week may have made some of my base happy, but it’s not going to go anywhere,” McCaul, an Austin Republican, said Monday in an interview with The Texas Tribune. “It’s incumbent upon us to work with the Senate to get a package that really incorporates all the threats I see out there.”

The bill is one of Johnson’s first major legislative acts after he took the top job in the chamber late last month with the blessing of a far-right faction of the party less inclined to invest in foreign aid. It included nearly $14.5 billion in aid money to Israel and would be financed with money the bill cuts from the Internal Revenue Service.

Democrats were incensed by the bill. Assistance for Israel is usually a bipartisan priority that would have easily passed in both chambers. But House Republicans have long set their sights on reversing the nearly $80 billion for the IRS included in Democrats’ Inflation Reduction Act last year. Democrats criticized Johnson’s bill as needlessly politicizing an otherwise easily passable national defense priority. Democrats and many Republicans also hoped to tie Israel’s aid to support for Ukraine in its war against Russia.

McCaul voted for the bill, which eventually passed the House with all but two Republican votes and limited Democratic support (12 voted for its passage). Senate Democrats have no interest in taking up the package.

Johnson defended the package on Fox News Sunday as being fiscally responsible, offsetting the price tag with money that would otherwise go to the IRS. But the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office predicted that eliminating the IRS funding would actually increase the deficit by hampering revenue collection.

McCaul has long advocated for a bipartisan approach to foreign policy in Congress, asserting domestic partisan divisions hurt foreign confidence in the U.S. He has also pushed for sustained support for U.S. allies facing threats from Russia, China and Iran, warning against a growing skepticism — and at times hostility— within his party toward continued support for Ukraine. But proponents of that skepticism are growing in numbers and influence in the conference.

“I think honestly it was the new speaker’s first real big package to go to the floor. I think he wanted to show a unified conference,” McCaul said. “But at the end of the day, we can’t run from this problem and I do think it’s going to be a package linking all of these threats that I outlined together that will eventually come over from the Senate and then I think the speaker is going to have some big decisions to make.”

Several House Republicans claim funding for Ukraine should take a backseat to priorities at home. Others fear the war in Ukraine could lead to a prolonged involvement overseas akin to the U.S. presences in Iraq and Afghanistan. A slim majority of Republicans voted against all Democrats and nearly half of their party on a Ukraine aid package in September. Eighteen of Texas’ 25 Republicans voted against it.

McCaul said House Republicans who lead the top national security committees are all unified on the need to continue to support Ukraine, viewing the alliances between Russia, Iran and China as a common threat. He added that members who have been critical of continued support for Ukraine are “not national security experts or experts in foreign policy.”

“I haven’t seen the threat landscape quite like this since my father’s war, World War II,” McCaul. “The world’s on fire now. It’s not a time you can hide under a rock at home and pretend like these threats aren’t going to come to you.”

Whether Johnson would buy a bipartisan Senate-written package tying Ukraine and Israel aid depends on what gets in the final legislation, McCaul said. Unlike McCaul, Johnson has voted against past aid packages for Ukraine. Johnson has also pushed for Ukraine aid to be conditional on legislation to harden the southern border — priorities McCaul asserted could be passed in tandem.

McCaul said provisions to address concerns from Ukraine-skeptical House Republicans could include oversight to make sure the money is being spent appropriately and defining an end goal for the United States in the conflict.

McCaul also said defending Ukraine could also avoid conflict elsewhere. Chinese President Xi Jinping is closely watching the conflict in Ukraine as he calculates his plans to eventually retake Taiwan, McCaul said.

President Joe Biden plans to meet with Xi this week during the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco — their first in-person meeting since Biden took office. McCaul urged Biden to take a harder stance on China and to establish a direct channel of communication between U.S. and Chinese military leadership.

When asked which Republican presidential candidate would best stand for U.S. interests overseas, McCaul lauded former President Donald Trump’s administration for its “projection of strength.” He also praised Nikki Haley, former United Nations Ambassador and former governor of South Carolina, as being closely aligned with his world view.

McCaul will lose a close ally in the Texas delegation when House Appropriations Chair Kay Granger retires at the end of this Congress. Granger announced last week that she will not seek reelection after over a quarter century in Congress. Granger is an avid proponent of appropriations for defense manufacturing, including in her Fort Worth-based district. As Appropriations chair, she sits on one of the highest perches in the House — a huge boost for the Texas Republican delegation.

She and McCaul are also close friends, fellow members of a cohort of House Republicans slowly being replaced with zealous members eager to wade into culture wars and hesitant to enter foreign conflicts.

“It always seems like the good ones leave and we get stuck with some of the other ones,” McCaul joked.

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