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Zelensky says he thanked Mike Johnson in private call as pressure mounts on Republican leader

Zelensky says he thanked Mike Johnson in private call as pressure mounts on Republican leader

The Republican Speaker of the House spoke privately with Ukraine’s president on Thursday as the issue divides the GOP caucus and threatens to throw the lower chamber into chaos once more.

Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, related the conversation on Twitter and thanked Speaker Mike Johnson for his and the US’s “critical support of Ukraine since the start of Russia's full-scale invasion”. He also described briefing the Speaker on an uptick in Russian missile, bombing and drone attacks in the weeks since funding for Ukraine’s defence has stalled in Congress.

“Last week alone, 190 missiles, 140 "Shahed" drones, and 700 guided aerial bombs were launched at Ukrainian cities and communities. Ukraine's largest hydroelectric power plant has gone offline,” said Mr Zelensky. “In this situation, quick passage of US aid to Ukraine by Congress is vital. We recognize that there are differing views in the House of Representatives on how to proceed, but the key is to keep the issue of aid to Ukraine as a unifying factor.”

International experts believe that Russia is seeking to wear down Ukraine’s military and inflict as many casualties as possible while US assistance lags. Specifically, many recent Russian offensives indicate a goal to “deplete Ukraine’s inventory of ground-based air defense,” according to a military assessment published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

The Ukrainian president’s tweet is the first news of his conversation with the GOP leader credited as the main reason an aid package has not reached President Joe Biden’s desk. Mr Johnson has yet to issue a public statement about the call; The Independent has contacted his office for comment.

The Senate passed the package on bipartisan lines weeks ago and both Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have called on Mr Johnson to take up the Senate-passed legislation.

But one problem: Mr Johnson is facing a revolt from one of the GOP’s most right-wing members. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the conspiracy-loving Trump loyalist from Georgia, threatened in January to bring a motion to vacate against Mr Johnson with the intent of ending his speakership if Ukraine aid was passed through the House (which it almost certainly will if Mr Johnson brings it to the floor). She made good on that promise last week.

A spokesperson for the Speaker dismissed her challenge in a statement: “Speaker Johnson always listens to the concerns of members, but is focused on governing. He will continue to push conservative legislation that secures our border, strengthens our national defense and demonstrates how we’ll grow our majority.”

The Ukrainian president’s tweet on Thursday likely had one intent: increasing the pressure on the Speaker and reinforcing the image of Mr Johnson as the main reason for the holdup of the aid bill.

It isn’t clear if Ms Greene will actually be able to gather the votes needed to pass the motion, even with just a one-vote majority in the chamber in the weeks ahead. Not known for her political alliances, she has yet to see a single Republican supporter sign on to her motion. But the warning for Mr Johnson remains: ignoring conservative demands around this legislation could cost him dearly. Other conservatives in the chamber remain unhappy with the speaker’s unwillingness to make demands for deep spending cuts in legislation to keep the government funded passed by the chamber at the end of last week.

Mr Johnson has pledged that the House will take up foreign aid to Ukraine and Israel, likely as two separate bills, after the chamber returns from a recess. But there’s no specific timeline yet for when either of those bills will make it to the floor.