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Speaker Mike Johnson can ‘bend the course of history’ by backing Ukraine funding, White House says

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(WASHINGTON) — President Joe Biden’s national security adviser on Sunday pushed Speaker Mike Johnson to put a bipartisan Senate foreign aid bill to a vote in the House, arguing that doing so could help turn the tide in Ukraine’s war against Russia’s invasion.

“This is one of those instances where one person can bend the course of history. Speaker Johnson, if he put this bill on the floor, would produce a strong bipartisan majority vote in favor of the aid to Ukraine. We saw that in the Senate,” Jake Sullivan told ABC News “This Week” co-anchor Martha Raddatz.

“So it comes down to one person, Speaker Johnson. Will he put the bill on the floor? I have spoken with him personally. He has indicated that he would like to get the funding for Ukraine. He’s trying to figure out a way to do it. Right now, it comes down to his willingness to actually step up to the plate and discharge his responsibility at this critical moment,” Sullivan said. “And history is watching.”

Johnson has voiced support for Ukraine but helped lead opposition to the Senate legislation that combined funding for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan with significantly increased border restrictions over criticism that the immigration changes were insufficient.

There is also growing conservative skepticism about the value of sending more aid to Ukraine over domestic issues like the border.

While the Senate deal languishes, some House Republicans have proposed a similar but alternative bill. It’s unclear if either proposal will get a vote soon.

“The Republican-led House will not be jammed or forced,” Johnson told reporters earlier this month after the Senate legislation passed that chamber.

Sullivan, on Sunday, said U.S. support has been and would likely continue to be vital to Ukraine’s stand against Russia, two years into its war, which has morphed into a stalemate as both sides press for a breakthrough.

“Ukraine stands. It stands as a proud, free democracy, but it is still continuing to fight against a vicious Russian onslaught in the east. And for that, it needs weapons, it needs ammunition and it needs resources from countries like the United States,” Sullivan said on “This Week.”

“This is not about a shortage of will, Martha. This is about a shortage of bullets,” he told Raddatz.

Citing her own reporting from Ukraine, Raddatz pressed Sullivan on Ukraine’s major counteroffensive last year, which was unsuccessful. Raddatz said the Ukrainians felt it was “because they did not have the training and the war fighting equipment they wanted.”

“I can understand the frustration and the pain that they are going through,” Sullivan acknowledged before defending the U.S. response, saying an American-led coalition of countries “delivered to Ukraine all of the pieces of equipment, all of the shells, all of the rockets that they’ve requested in advance of their counteroffensive.”

Raddatz also pressed Sullivan on America’s apparently incremental approach to providing some major munitions, such as Abrams tanks and F-16 fighter jets, which the U.S. had initially said Ukraine didn’t need before later reversing course.

“If you look at the sum total of what the United States is provided to Ukraine in this fight, it is an incredible quantity of material delivered at speed, at scale, outpacing the expectations of anyone,” Sullivan said.

“So the idea that we did not mobilize a massive quantity of resources and capabilities to deliver to the Ukrainians simply doesn’t wash,” he maintained.

Of the fighter jets, specifically, Sullivan said, “There aren’t very many Ukrainian pilots to be able to pilot those aircraft. It’s not about whether or not F-16s could possibly have been on the battlefield in the spring of last year.”

Sullivan also defended 500-plus new sanctions against Russia, targeting various people and entities, after the death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in an Arctic penal colony, which the U.S. blames on Vladimir Putin. (The Kremlin denies this.)

Raddatz asked about the strategy behind continued sanctions, if previous penalties have not sufficiently deterred Russia, and why it took so long to punish the new targets revealed last week.

Sullivan said sanctions are intended to “drive down Russia’s access to revenue,” as well as to starve “the Russian defense industrial base” and to hold specific people “accountable” for Navalny’s death.

“They can contribute to a strategic result and we are going to stay patient and resolved and relentless in the application of these sanctions,” Sullivan said.

He played down questions about the timing of the new targets, which he said are continually being assessed.

“This is the latest turn of the crank,” he said, “and there will be more.”

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