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The Speaker of the US House of Representatives, who once strongly opposed aid to Ukraine, is allowing this to pass

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Republican Mike Johnson emerged from nowhere as speaker of the US House of Representatives six months ago before emerging as a staunch defender of military aid to Ukraine, which the House approved on Saturday.

The evolution of this 52-year-old Southerner with carefully coiffed hair was astonishing.

An arch-conservative Christian from Louisiana, he shot to the top leadership position in the House of Representatives in October following the unprecedented ouster of then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy in an uprising by far-right lawmakers linked to Donald Trump.

After several candidates were nominated and then discarded, Johnson’s name came up – he was a virtual unknown to the American public – and with Trump’s blessing, Johnson became leader of the House of Representatives and of a Republican party in Congress that was at war with itself.

Johnson had blocked a vote for months on the help the Ukrainian army desperately needs to defend against Russian invasion forces.

But recently his tone began to soften. And then in a dazzling change last week, Johnson emerged as a passionate defender of a long-delayed aid package.

That culminated in a vote on Saturday in which his chamber, with a strong bipartisan majority, approved more than $60 billion in additional military and financial aid for Ukraine.


What was behind Johnson’s metamorphosis?

“I believe Johnson has gradually become convinced that America must support Ukraine in our own interests, and that the far-right Republicans who demanded otherwise were simply wrong,” Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia, told AFP.

Ukraine's $61 billion aid bill will be passed in the US House and Senate on Tuesday

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Ukraine’s $61 billion aid bill will be passed in the US House and Senate on Tuesday

After seven months of delays, the lower house of the US Congress has passed the long-awaited military aid bill, the delay of which has hampered Ukraine’s fight in Russia’s large-scale invasion.

In December, as previously approved U.S. funding for Kiev dried up, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine made a last-ditch visit to Washington to plead for a new aid package.

Zelensky made his way through the halls of Congress, accompanied by the Senate’s top Democrat and Republican, both outspoken supporters of President Joe Biden’s request for $60 billion.

But his meeting with Johnson took place behind closed doors.

Johnson said afterward that Biden was asking for “billions of additional dollars without adequate oversight, without a clear strategy to win, and without the answers I believe the American people are owed.”

Since then, however, a range of US and global figures – including British Foreign Secretary David Cameron – have worked to convince Johnson of the high stakes, with some warning that Ukraine could fall by the end of the year unless US aid would come through.

One concession

On Monday, Johnson announced that the House of Representatives would still pass and support separate bills to provide aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.

Johnson did make one concession to Trump – who had demanded that aid to Ukraine be at least partly in the form of loans – by making part of the package conditional on repayment.

But the debt can still be forgiven, and the relief package almost exactly matches the amount Biden requested months ago.

What was behind Johnson’s reconsideration?

“He didn’t want the fall of Ukraine to be in his hands,” Sabato said.

Johnson provided further insight during a press conference on Wednesday.

“To put it bluntly, I would rather send bullets to Ukraine than to American boys,” he said, before adding in a voice choked with emotion that his son is about to enter the US Naval Academy.

“This is a real exercise for me, as it is for so many American families,” Johnson said.

It remains unclear whether some of the far-right lawmakers behind McCarthy’s ouster last year might try to oust Johnson after the perceived betrayal.

House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries struck a philosophical tone as he described Johnson’s thorny choices.

“This,” he said, “is a Churchill or Chamberlain moment” – referring first to the wartime British prime minister known for his iron resolve and then to Churchill’s predecessor, whose name was forever linked to a policy of appeasement .

Without quite expressing himself in those terms, Johnson said he considers himself “a wartime speaker.”

In a somber tone, he added: “We must do the right thing – and history will judge us.”