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Republican Congressman Mike Lawler discusses foreign aid package

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Well, after months of delay, the House is finally considering a foreign aid package. Funding for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan is on the line, along with sanctions against several countries, which are meant to shore up national security. Getting the legislation to the floor has been a huge challenge for Republican Speaker Mike Johnson, who faces objections from the right flank of his party and threats from some members who want him ousted from the speakership. Congressman Mike Lawler, Republican from New York, joins us now. Welcome back to the show.

MIKE LAWLER: Thanks for having me.

CHANG: Thanks for being with us. So Republicans argue that funding for the U.S.-Mexico border is a top priority. They've insisted that it accompany funding for Ukraine. There's nothing for the border in this package because the speaker called the bipartisan border deal dead on arrival. Was that a mistake, you think?

LAWLER: Well, I think it's a little more complicated than that. You know, House Republicans passed HR 2 back in May of last year, and Chuck Schumer and Senate Democrats did absolutely nothing on the border for months. And it wasn't until Speaker Johnson said that there needed to be border provisions with a Ukraine aid package that the Senate finally started to negotiate.

Oftentimes in Washington, the moment there's a bipartisan deal, everybody wants to jump on board without really looking at the details. And I think there were serious concerns about some of the provisions of that border agreement, including enshrining into law catch and release, which many of us object to. So...

CHANG: What are you hearing from your own constituents about these issues? Is there a concern that there is nothing for the border in this package that you're all considering?

LAWLER: Yeah. So obviously, people are extremely frustrated about the border. This is a crisis that has manifested itself over the last three years. Over 10 million migrants have crossed our southern border, most of them illegally, 90% of them released into our country. So there's real frustration, including in an area like mine, in New York, where you've seen New York City take in over 200,000 migrants. They've spent billions of dollars on free housing, free clothing, free health care, free education. And so there's real frustration, and we need to secure the border.

But when you look at what is going on in the globe right now, the world is a tinderbox. Russia, China and Iran have engaged in an unholy alliance to undermine and destabilize the free world. And the United States, as the leader of the free world, has an obligation to do just that - lead. And we need to support our allies. We need to take on our adversaries. And so getting lethal aid to Ukraine, to Israel, to Taiwan is critical in this moment and especially in light of the attack against Israel by Iran just last week and, you know, the continued advancement by Russia...

CHANG: Right.

LAWLER: ...In Ukraine.

CHANG: Let's talk about the speakership now. Three of your colleagues are calling for Johnson to be removed from the speakership. And while he may be able to get this package passed, he might also lose the speakership. What's your sense about how likely that is?

LAWLER: Well, I think the speaker understood that you had to do the right thing in the right moment and for the right reasons, and that's why he advanced the legislation to support our allies at this critical juncture. But...

CHANG: But can Johnson govern if Democrats end up saving him?

LAWLER: Well, I think the reality is this is about the institution, and this is about America's role in the world. And this is a moment of bipartisanship because it should be bipartisan. We should be focused on working together to advance America's cause and standing in the world and support our democratic allies around the globe. And so look, the speaker did the right thing. He put the bill on the floor. Everyone will get a chance to vote yea or nay on Israel, on Ukraine, on Taiwan and on key provisions, including two of my bills to go after Iranian oil.

CHANG: But if Mike Johnson does lose the speakership, and speakership chaos happens again in your chamber, are you concerned you could lose your seat to a Democrat this fall because of all the dysfunction with the GOP at the helm in the House?

LAWLER: No - because my district knows who I am. They know what I'm fighting for. And, again, I mean, in this aid package, two of my bills are going to become law. I'm doing the job that I was elected to do - to represent my district, a district Joe Biden won by 10 points, to work across the aisle, to govern and to get things done on behalf of the American people. I'm not concerned about what happens because of some of my colleagues who can't seem to get out of their own way.

The speaker will be just fine because the institution, hopefully, learned the lesson from October. You know, it took eight Republicans and 208 Democrats to throw the House into chaos by removing speaker McCarthy. Everyone needs to remember that, in order to do it again, it would require Democrats going along with it. And my - from my vantage point, everyone needs to take this moment, look at what is happening around the globe and recognize this is not a moment for politics. It's not a moment to throw the house into chaos. And whether it is a handful of Republican malcontents or the entire Democratic conference teaming up to remove the speaker, it would be destructive not just to the institution, but the country.

CHANG: Republican Congressman Mike Lawler of New York, thank you so much for your time.

LAWLER: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Michael Levitt
Michael Levitt is a news assistant for All Things Considered who is based in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in Political Science. Before coming to NPR, Levitt worked in the solar energy industry and for the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, D.C. He has also travelled extensively in the Middle East and speaks Arabic.
Sarah Handel
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.