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Sen. Ron Johnson: Keep aid to Israel and Ukraine in separate bills

Wisconsin's Republican senator shares his hopes for farm bill, next GOP Speaker of the House

Sen. Ron Johnson holds papers during a congressional subcommittee meeting on Capitol Hill
Committee chairman Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Ct., left, looks on as ranking member Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., speaks during a homeland security and governmental affairs subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill on Sept. 13, 2023, regarding the proposed PGA Tour-LIV Golf partnership. Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/AP Photo

While expressing support for Israel and Ukraine, Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson also cautioned against “massive, ill-defined” aid packages that combine separate conflicts and stand to balloon the national debt.

Johnson on Thursday joined Wisconsin Public Radio’s “The Morning Show,” where he said he wants to listen to what Israel needs in its fight against the Palestinian militant group Hamas, rather than throw a large sum of money Israel’s way without direction.

Additionally, he said the war between Ukraine and Russia needs to end, as any negotiated settlement will only get worse the longer the war continues.

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On “The Morning Show,” Johnson also discussed agriculture funding and the House of Representatives’ ongoing struggle to elect a Republican speaker.

The following was edited for brevity and clarity.

Kate Archer Kent: You and 98 senators are cosponsors of a resolution to support Israel. What aid would you support the U.S. government providing Israel?

Sen. Ron Johnson: First of all, it’s important to realize that we provide billions of dollars of military aid to Israel every year. And right now, from what we’re being told, there’s not a huge emergency requirement. They obviously need additional missiles for their Iron Dome and some other munitions, but there’s not a need for a huge amount of money. I want to actually sit and listen to what is going to be required. I think they will get that.

From my standpoint, these aid packages ought to be separated. We ought to take a look at each situation differently as opposed to combining them in some massive, ill-defined package. You just pull $100 billion out of the air and say, “We got to do this because there’s an emergency.” That’s exactly the method that’s being used to, again, plunder our children’s future. We ought to be more thoughtful about this, but again, I 100 percent support Israel.

Palestinians walk carrying bags as they pass destroyed buildings
Palestinians walk by the buildings destroyed in the Israeli bombardment on al-Zahra, on the outskirts of Gaza City, Friday, Oct. 20, 2023. Ali Mahmoud/AP Photo

KAK: Would you send weapons to Israel?

RJ: We do send weapons to Israel. We do it on an ongoing basis. We need to help Israel defend itself. That’s why we have two aircraft carriers based now in the Mediterranean (Sea) as a deterrent, so Hezbollah doesn’t open another front in the war. We’re going to support Israel, and I appreciate the fact that the Biden administration is expressing that and demonstrating that support.

KAK: Would you support an Israel funding package that includes aid for Ukraine to defend itself against Russia?

RJ: That’s hypothetical. I’m hoping they don’t combine these aid packages. We ought to look at each situation individually. There’s no need to combine these.

KAK: President Biden also announced that the U.S. is providing $100 million in humanitarian assistance for the Palestinian people in Gaza and the West Bank. Do you support aid to Palestinians and at what level?

RJ: I certainly understand that there are Palestinians trapped in Gaza who don’t support Hamas, and we want to avoid a humanitarian disaster as it relates to those individuals. Unfortunately, Hamas is not allowing civilians to go to the south, although quite a few have already gone there. I’m certainly for — and I think Israel is for — humanitarian support for those individuals, as well.

Again, the dollar amounts. It’s a matter of getting the water flowing. It’s a matter of getting the support in there where it can be inspected, so these truckloads of humanitarian aid don’t contain weapons, as well. You have got to be careful about this but also understand who the aggressor was and the right of Israel to defend itself and, hopefully over time, be able to destroy Hamas so they can’t do this again.

Ron Johnson speaks with his hands up at an election party
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., speaks to his supporters in the early morning hours at an election night party in Neenah, Wis., on Nov. 9, 2022. Mike Roemer/AP Photo

KAK: Are you concerned about our military, considering the House’s chaos without having a speaker and not being able to pass any type of package to move things forward?

RJ: My main concern about the military is the type of leaders the Biden administration is promoting that are more concerned about wokeness than they are military readiness. That’s my main concern. I think the military will be funded. I do not like continuing resolutions. They’re not good for the military. We need a far more organized approach, which is what I’m trying to impose here.

READ MORE: Wisconsinites with ties to Israel, Palestine feel unease and frustration over rhetoric around war

KAK: Is gridlock in the House affecting your ability to do your job in the Senate?

RJ: Obviously, we need the House to be able to pass appropriations bills. I was hoping that Rep. Jim Jordan would already be elected speaker. I hope he is eventually. Jim is a person of intelligence and very high integrity. He’s a person who actually is concerned about the fact that we’re mortgaging our kids’ futures and that we’re $33.5 trillion dollars in debt.

We need more people — certainly in leadership roles — who are concerned about our out-of-control spending. This can’t go on.

Editor’s note: Johnson’s interview Thursday morning happened before Jordan reportedly lost a secret vote Friday to remain the speaker designate.

KAK: In late September, the 2018 farm bill expired. This is a multi-year trillion-dollar spending package covering most American agriculture programs. The next bill has yet to reach Biden’s desk. What would you like to see added to the farm bill?

RJ: This is another example of dysfunction in Congress. It is unfortunate that, for example, the farm bill is combined with the food stamps bill. The vast majority of the funding here is in food stamps. We have expanded eligibility for food stamps, which has expanded that program as a percent of the American population. When you combine all the elements of a farm bill, you have to accommodate sugar farmers in Florida, wheat farmers in Kansas and dairy producers in Wisconsin. It becomes a big, muddled mess.

We listen to farmers in Wisconsin, and we fight for their interests. I’ll continue to do that. Hopefully, we can get a farm bill across the finish line here soon rather than later. But what I’m trying to do is bring function back to Congress, and right now it’s grotesquely dysfunctional.