Morning Report — Johnson’s Ukraine balancing act

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Morning Report — Johnson’s Ukraine balancing act

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Congress is in recess, but lawmakers are still focused on the work that awaits them once they return to Washington next week.

The key issue? Further aid for Ukraine. It’s a no-brainer for President Biden and congressional Democrats, who have been calling for more assistance to aid the country’s defense against Russia’s incursion. In the Senate, a large coalition of mainstream Republicans also support the bill.

But the ask is more divisive in the House, where Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) faces a divided conference and threats of an ouster over Ukraine aid. Johnson said the House will move an aid package for Ukraine after the April recess, but it could look strikingly different from the $95 billion aid package Senators passed in February. Johnson’s terms for Ukraine aid may also include a measure that would force Biden to reverse a moratorium on new permits for liquefied natural gas export facilities, something that Republicans would see as a political victory.

THE MAIN HURDLE standing in the package’s way in the House — effectively stalling it on Capitol Hill for months — has been Johnson’s refusal to bring it up in the face of vehement hard-right opposition in the GOP to sending more aid to Kyiv (The New York Times).

Politico: Johnson eyes Russian assets in the Ukraine funding fight. Bipartisan legislation would let the U.S. seize $5 billion to $8 billion in Russian assets.

Multiple members of the House GOP leadership said Monday that the odds lawmakers would approve more assistance were no better than 50 percent, and Johnson hasn’t made clear how much of his own political standing he is willing to put on the line (Bloomberg News). Now, the Speaker has told Republican senators that a substantial portion of the assistance in the House bill would be provided in the form of a loan, The Hill’s Alexander Bolton reports, an idea championed by former President Trump but initially dismissed by Senate leaders in both parties.

But given the dire situation on the eastern Ukrainian front, where Ukrainian troops are running out of weapons and ammunition, even senators who were initially skeptical about a loan program are warming up to the idea. Sen. Laphonza Butler (D-Calif.) acknowledged Monday that Congress is running out of time to help Ukraine and the Senate may be forced to accept whatever passes the House.

“I think in whatever form it comes — whatever form it takes to get the aid to Ukraine, that’s the form that we got to go [with],” she told reporters. “I am of course a believer in the bill that was passed here in the Senate, would prefer that the House take that up. I don’t want to have to go through it all here in the Senate again, but getting the aid to Ukraine has to be the priority, and we have to do it as quickly as possible.”

ONE OF JOHNSON’S OBSTACLES is Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who on Monday accused the Speaker of having “surrendered” to House Democrats and the White House after he knocked her on Fox News. Johnson described Greene’s recent threat to trigger a vote to remove him from the Speakership — while objecting to his willingness to sideline various conservative demands in his conference — as a “distraction from our mission.” The ensuing chaos, he said, would hinder the GOP from defending the House and flipping the Senate and White House this fall.

“This is not an easy job right now,” Johnson said, adding that Republicans are “not going to get the legislation that we all desire and prefer” with Democrats in control of the Senate and White House (The Hill).

“But with the smallest margin in U.S. history, we’re sometimes going to get legislation that we don’t like,” Johnson said.


▪ 👉 World Central Kitchen today halted its humanitarian help in the Gaza region after an apparent Israeli airstrike killed six international aid workers and their Palestinian driver, some clearly wearing protective gear with the organization’s logo, who were working for the food charity, founded by celebrity chef José Andrés. Killed were three British nationals, an Australian, a Polish national and an American-Canadian dual citizen. CEO Erin Gore called the strike “unforgivable,” and Poland asked Israel for “urgent explanations.”

▪ 📱Current and former customers impacted by a recently discovered AT&T data breach are advised to look for email notices from the company and heed some advice about how to protect themselves going forward.  

▪ ✈️ Boeing is struggling with delayed delivery of new planes to customers. As a result, United Airlines asked pilots to take unpaid time off in May amid the slowdown. For the flying public, that likely signals fewer planes in the air, full flights and ticket prices to match.


© The Associated Press / Mike Stewart | Former President Trump, seen campaigning last month in Georgia, will hold rallies today in Michigan and Wisconsin.


REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS: Florida’s Supreme Court Monday upheld a 15-week abortion ban signed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis — a move that in 30 days will trigger a far more restrictive 6-week ban also backed by the governor, just months before the November election (The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal). 

In a separate decision, the state’s high court also ruled that the November ballot can include an amendment that would place abortion rights in the state’s constitution, opening the door to a swell of voter mobilization efforts by both major political parties in a state former President Trump calls home. Such a vote could potentially undo the changes DeSantis and others embrace among the strictest state abortion laws in the post-Dobbs era.

Early polling has shown that more than 60 percent of Floridians support the proposed constitutional amendment — enough to clear the threshold.

BIDEN’S CAMPAIGN quickly assailed the decision as effectively locking in abortion bans in all southeastern states, foreshadowing what’s ahead for the 2024 contest. “Since the 2022 midterms in Florida, there have been resounding rejections of MAGA politics,” the campaign said in a statement announcing its aim to flip Florida. Florida is not seen as in play in the presidential race but it has competitive down-ballot contests this year.

Since Roe fell, abortion-rights advocates have won seven straight referendum victories. Progressive groups and advocates for abortion rights want to see voters in states that have not fortified federal abortion protections get a chance to act in November. Florida’s Supreme Court opened that door.

FROM COURTROOMS TO HUSTINGS: Meanwhile, Trump will headline rallies today in Michigan and Wisconsin, marking his first such voter events in two weeks. His Midwestern blitz tests a team at the Republican National Committee installed last month by the presumptive nominee, The Hill’s Brett Samuels reports.

Trump posted a $175 million bond Monday in his New York civil fraud case, halting collection of the more than $454 million he owes and preventing the state from seizing his assets to satisfy the debt while he appeals, according to a court filing.

Trump typed his way into an expanded gag order in a criminal trial Monday. Judge Juan Merchan, presiding in Trump’s hush-money trial in New York, declared his daughter off-limits to the former president’s verbal and social media rancor and expanded a gag order that had not originally included the judge or his family, saying he did so because of the former president’s attacks. Trump maintains that his commentary, however deployed, is protected by the First Amendment.


Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s campaign said Monday he qualified to get on the North Carolina ballot. The addition of the swing Tar Heel State means the independent presidential candidate expects to be on ballots in Utah, New Hampshire and Hawaii, and he’s cleared the signature threshold for Nevada thus far. … Here’s where polling stands in a three-way race among Biden, Trump and Kennedy.

The Hill’s Niall Stanage — picking up on lively speculation about Trump’s eventual choice of a running mate — explains why the former president, who had an ugly split from former vice president Mike Pence, may find his prospects largely unchanged by his pick.

Connecticut, Delaware, New York, Rhode Island and Wisconsin today hold presidential primaries. Arkansas and Mississippi hold primary runoffs for down-ballot races.

▪ Trump’s transition-to-governing enthusiasts: The former president’s allies are plotting anti-racism protections — for white people. … Conservatives want specific major education reforms in a future Republican administration, although education has never been a top issue for the former president.

▪ Flashback to former Rep. James Traficant (D-Ohio): Former Rep. George Santos’s (R-N.Y.) decision to seek reelection as an independent after being expelled from Congress recalls a bit of history.


The House will meet for a pro forma session at 9 a.m.

The Senate will hold a pro forma session Thursday at 4 p.m.

The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 10 a.m.

Vice President Harris has no public schedule today.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in France where he visits Nexter headquarters with French Defense Minister Sébastien Lecornu in Paris at 1 p.m. local time. The two men will have a working lunch followed by a joint press conference. The secretary will meet with United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Director General Audrey Azoulay, then head to the U.S. Mission in Paris to confer with employees and their families. Blinken will meet at 7:30 p.m. local with French President Emmanuel Macron.

The White House daily press briefing is scheduled at 1:30 p.m.


© The Associated Press / Hatem Ali | Palestinians who are crowded in Rafah, Gaza, are bracing for a possible Israeli offensive.


ISRAEL will take U.S. concerns about a planned offensive in Rafah, Gaza, into account, officials told U.S. counterpartsMonday during a virtual meeting that included a discussion about alternative ways to root out Hamas militants in southern Gaza. There was no immediate sign that negotiators reached any agreement on the path forward (Reuters). The Biden administration is trying to dissuade the Israeli government from undertaking a significant military operation in the beleaguered city to avert more civilian casualties.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who expects to be discharged from a hospital today after hernia surgery, revived efforts to shutter Qatari television station Al Jazeera in Israel, pledging to take “immediate action” to close the station’s local office (Reuters).

Tensions are escalating after Israeli airstrikes destroyed a building belonging to the Iranian consulate in Damascus, Syria, killing a senior commander in the Quds Force, the external military and intelligence service of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Iran and Hezbollah vowed “punishment and revenge,” The New York Times, The Times of Israel and The Wall Street Journal.

The Washington Post: Inside the ruins of Gaza’s al-Shifa Hospital.


© The Associated Press / Petty Officer 3rd Class Kimberly Reaves-U.S. Coast Guard photo | Workers have begun the slow process of removing pieces of Baltimore’s collapsed Francis Scott Key bridge from the Patapsco River to reopen the Port of Baltimore.


BALTIMORE BRIDGE: Biden will travel to Baltimore Friday to visit the site of the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge (The Hill). Biden last week vowed that the federal government would foot the bill, a commitment that was met with some backlash from conservative spending hawks in Congress. The Department of Transportation pledged initial emergency funding of $60 million last week and said it may come to Congress for additional resources when the scope of necessary work is fully known. Rebuilding the bridge is expected to take years and cost $400 million, according to experts.

MILLIONS OF BORROWERS are potentially at risk of having their student loan payments increase after a group of Republican-led states filed a legal challenge against the Biden administration last week (Forbes).

The Atlantic: A botched effort to streamline the financial-aid process may prevent a huge number of students from going to college in the fall.

USA Today: FAFSA data delays? Many colleges say they can’t process information in time.


■ Don’t overlook the power of the civil cases against Trump, by David Lat and Zachary B. Shemtob, guest essayists, The New York Times.

■ Supreme Court justices are not arbiters of right and wrong, by Moti Mizrahi, opinion contributor, The Hill.


© The Associated Press / Bill Ingalls, NASA | A total solar eclipse will take place April 8. An eclipse in 2017, pictured, silhouetted the seemingly tiny International Space Station.

And finally … The total solar eclipse April 8 will plunge parts of North America into darkness for a few minutes. For those with all five senses, light and sight will quickly resume and careful witnesses to the event will be wowed across parts of Mexico, the U.S. and Canada

But what if you’re blind or visually impaired? Thanks to technology and one organized gathering, some Texans without sight will be able to “hear” and feel the rare celestial event, which won’t recur for another two decades. On eclipse day, the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Austin plans to invite classmates to gather in the school’s grassy quad and listen to a small device called a LightSound box that translates changing light into sounds.

As the eclipse enters Texas, the students will hear high, delicate flute notes. As the moon begins to cover the sun, mid-range notes of a clarinet will be heard. Darkness will be rendered by a low clicking sound.

From the Lone Star State, the eclipse will slide past Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.

“I’m looking forward to being able to actually hear the eclipse instead of seeing it,” said high school senior and space enthusiast Yuki Hatch.

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