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Opinion: One Trump puppet stands between Ukraine and the aid it needs

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Opinion: One Trump puppet stands between Ukraine and the aid it needs

Speaker Mike Johnson in just months has all but cemented his place among the weakest House leaders in its history. Alas, the Louisianan nonetheless holds enough power that he’s single-handedly blocking one of the most crucial matters of our time: bipartisan U.S. aid to Ukraine for its defense against Vladimir Putin’s murderous expansionism.

It’s not like Johnson is making a stand on principle by not scheduling a House vote. Oh, no. To hear him talk, he’s all for our Ukrainian allies and wants some kind of aid. But Donald Trump does not — he’s with Putin, as usual — and Johnson generally stands wherever the former president directs. Not for nothing is the novice speaker called “MAGA Mike.”

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Jackie Calmes

Jackie Calmes brings a critical eye to the national political scene. She has decades of experience covering the White House and Congress.

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And no issue illustrates better than Ukraine the dithering and subservience to Trump that have become Johnson’s hallmarks since October, when House Republicans ousted his predecessor, rejected several higher-ranking aspirants and then, exhausted by the impasse, settled on him.

Also, no issue holds more dire consequences if Johnson doesn’t change course — for Ukraine, peace in Europe and the United States’ security and international standing.

Johnson continues to straddle the question, saying all the right, supportive things — “Ukraine is the victim here. They were invaded,” he told reporters Wednesday — and yet doing nothing. President Biden’s aid request has languished for as long as Johnson has been speaker. It’s now been a month since the Senate overwhelmingly voted, 70 to 29, for the $95-billion foreign aid package — $60 billion for Ukraine and the rest for Israel, Taiwan and Palestinians in Gaza.

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Give Johnson this much: He can take a lot of pressure, at least when he’s safely in Trump’s corner. Lately he’s been getting hit from all sides about Ukraine — from the president and congressional Democrats, sure, but also from pro-Ukraine Republicans and even from foreign leaders.

Members of both parties began trying in recent days to collect signatures from a majority of the House on two separate discharge petitions that would force a vote on Ukraine aid. The discharge strategy is rarely used, and it’s even more rarely successful because, by definition, the action is a slap at the party leaders who bottled up the legislation. But this could be one of the rare times.

Most Democrats already have signed the petition that would simply require a vote on the Senate bill, sending it to Biden. (The other petition is for a scaled-back bill that would require separate Senate approval and more time.) The Ukraine backers must get enough Republicans to buck their party leaders and sign to make a majority. That’s hard, but doable: The Ukraine issue is powerful, and Johnson is not. Republicans don’t fear him. To fend off the challenge, Johnson has suggested he’s trying to draft an alternative to the Senate bill.

In the Senate, meanwhile, Republican leader Mitch McConnell is fed up with Johnson’s pussyfooting. McConnell has almost never publicly criticized House Republicans or told them how to run their chamber. So it was a measure of his exasperation that he vented to reporters Tuesday: “We don’t have time for all of this. We’ve got a bill that got 70 votes in the Senate. Give members of the House of Representatives an opportunity to vote on it.”

Visiting leaders from Poland, Ukraine’s neighbor and our NATO ally, on that same day publicly singled out Johnson for some less-than-diplomatic kvetching. “Mr. Johnson’s failure to make a positive decision will cost thousands of lives” and affect “the fate of millions of people,” Prime Minister Donald Tusk said.

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After Johnson met privately with Polish President Andrzej Duda, he issued the kind of have-it-all-ways remarks he’s now known for. The statement was silent on the Ukraine aid bill yet proclaimed, “America must remain united with our friends against those who threaten our security.”

What do those words mean if they’re not an argument for more aid to Ukraine?

The “remain united with our friends” part is particularly rich. Contrary to what Trump and his America First Republicans would have us believe, nearly all European and NATO allies have given more assistance to Ukraine than the United States, measured as a percentage of the size of the nations’ economies. They’re panicky at the prospect of a U.S. retreat from the bloodiest combat in Europe since World War II.

As for “those who threaten our security,” certainly Russia looms large among those threats, at least for everyone but Trump and his sycophants.

Of which Johnson is one. And that’s the problem.

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Johnson, stalling, insists that the Senate and the House first must finish the long-overdue work of funding the government. But the annual spending bills won’t be completed before Friday, and then Congress skedaddles for a 17-day recess. The Republican chair of the House Armed Services Committee, Alabama Rep. Mike D. Rogers, had a word for Johnson’s timetable: “reckless.”

As Johnson waffles, Ukrainian troops are rationing ammunition and giving ground to Russians that they could hold if they had a reliable pipeline of U.S.-made weaponry. CIA Director William Burns and other U.S. intelligence officials recently warned Congress that Ukraine’s losses would only mount without U.S. aid. For this country to abandon Ukraine after pledges to the contrary would not only embolden revanchist Russia, it would encourage the Chinese in their global ambitions.

As Biden said in his State of the Union address, the necessary lifeline for Ukraine “is being blocked by those who want us to walk away from our leadership in the world.”

Johnson would deny that’s what he wants. Let’s see him prove it. In the words of McConnell: “Let the House speak.”

And if it does — with a bipartisan vote for Ukraine — that will echo the support of a majority of Americans. But first Johnson must get out of the way. Or be pushed.

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Fetterman hammers 'a–hole' anti-Israel protesters, slams own party for response to Iranian attack: 'Crazy'

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Fetterman hammers 'a–hole' anti-Israel protesters, slams own party for response to Iranian attack: 'Crazy'

Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., reiterated his criticisms of activists calling for cease-fire in Gaza, and slammed fellow Democrats for their “crazy” response to the attacks Iran has launched against Israel, in an interview with Fox Digital.

“It is not appropriate or legal or helpful to advance your argument if you show up in a Starbucks with a bullhorn and start yelling at people,” he told Fox News Digital in a Friday interview. 

He also claimed such protests don’t “make you noble.”

“It just makes you an a–hole,” Fetterman said. 

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Sen. John Fetterman reiterated criticisms of anti-Israel protesters disrupting travel and business. (Getty Images)

Since the onset of the war between Israel and terrorist group Hamas, anti-Israel demonstrations have erupted across the U.S. The protesters have gone to extreme lengths at times to telegraph their displeasure with U.S. policy in regard to Israel. Some have trespassed in government buildings, blocked high-traffic bridges and entered private businesses with bullhorns, chanting at employees. 

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Anti-Israel protesters demonstrate along NYPD police lines outside of Columbia University’s campus

Anti-Israel protesters demonstrate along NYPD police lines outside of Columbia University’s campus in New York City on Thursday, April 18, 2024. Multiple students were arrested as officers cleared an encampment on the campus’ lawn. (Peter Gerber for Fox News Digital)

Fetterman clarified that he is supportive of the right to protest and hold different opinions. 

“It’s very American to protest and to do that in the appropriate way,” he said. “I absolutely support that.”

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What he takes issue with, he said, is when those demonstrations “disrupt lives.”

He noted the serious implications of protesters who block traffic with their bodies on high-volume bridges and roads, explaining, “There could be people that [are in] an emergency, or they’re going to be late for work – that they could lose their job, or they have to pick up their kids or drop kids off.”

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Protestors block Manhattan Bridge

Anti-Israel protesters demanding a Gaza cease-fire block the Manhattan Bridge in both directions in New York City on Nov. 26, 2023. (Gardiner Anderson for NY Daily News via Getty Images)

While he opposes such forms of protest, he didn’t signal interest in legislation to address them, telling Fox News Digital, it’s “not really my priority.”

“My priority is to talk about hostages,” he said, referring to those still in Hamas’ custody in Gaza. 

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The Pennsylvania senator has emerged as one of the most vocally supportive Democrats of Israel, which he reiterated in the interview, emphasizing, “We can’t ever forget Hamas started this, and they have chosen to do the most terrible, awful, unspeakable things.”

And until the hostages, including the Americans still held in Gaza, are released, Fetterman doesn’t believe the Palestinian cause for statehood can go anywhere.

“They have the power to decide, today – send everyone home and surrender, and all the trauma, the death, and everything in Gaza can end. And you can get back on the path of peace and a two-state solution,” he said.

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Israel launches strike on Iran

Israel retaliated against Iran following a drone attack on the country. (IRGC)

Many in the Democratic Party were not supportive of Israel’s decision to retaliate against Iran, which attacked the country directly last weekend. They feared any counterattacks could stoke a regional war that has the potential to draw in the U.S. But Fetterman said, “I am not going to be in a position to tell Israel what it should do. That’s their choice.” 

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“I certainly hope none of this escalates and turns into [a] more widespread” conflict, he added. 

He was critical of fellow Democrats who did not immediately condemn Iran for directly attacking Israel. “I was appalled that there were members of our party – Democrats that can’t even condemn Iran,” Fetterman remarked. “That’s crazy.”

Prompted on growing division within the Democratic Party over support for Israel, he said he can’t speak for other members. However, he reaffirmed his position as “a very confirmed and consistent voice in standing with Israel throughout all of this.”

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Nearly 3 million Californians at risk of losing home internet service as subsidy expires

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Nearly 3 million Californians at risk of losing home internet service as subsidy expires

Four years ago, Claudia Aleman and her family had only one way to get online — through their cellphones. Without internet service on a computer, her youngest daughter couldn’t get homework assignments in on time, her parents couldn’t keep up with online doctor visits, and the English classes she wanted to sign up for were out of reach.

Then came a game-changer: The federal government started offering a subsidy that covered $30 of the family’s $80 monthly internet bill.

But while opening mail at her home in South Gate two months ago, Aleman came across a letter from the Federal Communications Commission announcing that the Affordable Connectivity Program they had come to rely on would end in May unless Congress approved more funding.

Claudia Aleman of South Gate said her family did not have a computer with internet service until the federal subsidy was created.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

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“My husband is the only one who works, and everything is so expensive right now,” Aleman said. “Sometimes we don’t have $30 to spare.”

“The program made a significant difference in our lives,” she added. “Without it, life is going to be difficult, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way.”

The program, which was created after the pandemic forced many Americans to turn to the internet to connect with work and school, has 23 million enrollees nationwide — 1 in 6 U.S. households — including nearly 3 million in California.

Since 2021, it has provided a $30 monthly subsidy for low-income households and $75 for those on tribal lands. But the $14.2 billion funded through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act has run out.

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April was the last month of full program benefits, but households could receive a partial discount in May.

In a letter to Congress this month, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel warned that not funding the program would have widespread impact, especially for senior citizens, veterans, schoolchildren and residents of rural and tribal communities.

“Households across the country are now facing hard choices about what expenses they have to cut, including food and gas, to maintain their broadband access, with some households doubtful they can afford to keep their broadband service at all,” she wrote.

Internet service providers have their own programs for low-income households. People can enter their address on the FCC’s broadband map to find providers in their area. The California Public Utilities Commission also provides a list of providers with low-cost internet plans.

But finding a cheaper alternative can be difficult. Rural households sometimes have just one provider, and families who can’t afford it have little recourse.

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Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Santa Barbara) is among 228 bipartisan co-sponsors of the Affordable Connectivity Program Extension Act of 2024, which would provide an additional $7 billion to keep the program afloat for another year. Among the co-sponsors are 22 Republicans, including Rep. Young Kim (R-Anaheim Hills).

“You’ve got to have your head in the sand to not understand the value of what this is doing to enhance our economy, enhance the skills and opportunities for so many Americans,” Carbajal said. Allowing the program to expire, he said, “will undo the progress we’ve made in closing the digital divide. It would take us back to the dark ages.”

 A man holding a paper speaks on the floor of the House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol in Washington.

Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Santa Barbara) has sponsored legislation to fund the internet subsidy for another year.

(House Television via AP)

But the bill hasn’t been brought for a standalone floor vote in the GOP-led House amid criticism from some Republicans who say the program subsidizes households that already had internet service. They also pointed to findings from the FCC’s internal watchdog last year that providers failed to comply with the program’s rules and improperly claimed funds.

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In a statement last year, Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said the program was “subject to massive waste, fraud, and abuse of taxpayer dollars.”

In an FCC survey of 5,300 households conducted in December, more than two-thirds of respondents said they had inconsistent or no internet before joining the federal program, the majority citing affordability. About one-third of respondents said they had both mobile and home internet service.

In October, the Biden administration sent Congress a supplemental request for $6 billion to keep the program running, but it didn’t pass.

Letting the program lapse, even if it could be restarted later, would require additional spending on outreach and re-enrollment, Carbajal said. He also worries that people who benefit from it will feel a sense of whiplash and lose trust in the federal government.

California recently dedicated $70 million in federal funding toward affordable internet service, devices and training. Carbajal said he’s glad to see his state acting, but it’s not enough.

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“We can’t look at it from a parochial standpoint,” he said. “I’m not just looking out for the Central Coast and my state — I’m looking out for the entire nation.”

Still, Carbajal said he’s optimistic something will take hold before May 1. Similar circumstances have played out favorably at the last minute, he said.

In Los Angeles, the federal program has played an important role in the county’s effort to close the digital divide, which was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Through local promotion, enrollment in Los Angeles grew to nearly 1 million households.

County officials partnered with the nonprofit EveryoneOn to get the word out. Chief Executive Norma Fernandez worries families will be confused when they see their internet bill go up and won’t understand why the program ended.

“We tried so hard and provided tons of hands-on support to get people connected and then we’re going to pull it away from them,” she said. “It’s going to cause hopelessness.”

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Claudia Aleman in the living room of her family home with photos on the wall.

Claudia Aleman’s family has benefited from subsidized internet service through the Affordable Connectivity Program that is running out of funds.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

For Aleman’s family, the pandemic changed everything. When schools first shut down, they relied on a Los Angeles County Unified School District program that offered free internet to eligible students.

But the service was unreliable — access would frequently drop or freeze up. So Aleman started leaving her daughter Miranda, now 11, with her sister and neighbors who had reliable internet access so that she could attend online classes and do her homework.

“I think my daughter lost an entire school year,” she said.

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Their need for internet access at home hasn’t changed since schools reopened. Most of Miranda’s assignments are still online.

Life improved almost immediately after they enrolled in the federal subsidy program in 2022 and got internet access through AT&T. Miranda started turning in assignments on time. Aleman’s older daughters, 17 and 21, could do their schoolwork at home instead of at the library or relatives’ homes.

It also made a difference for her parents. Her father, who is diabetic, takes nutrition courses online, and her mother, who is asthmatic, needs regular video checkups with her doctor. And Aleman could finally stay in regular contact with family in Mexico.

Since learning that the program would end, Aleman said she has been applying for jobs to help her husband cover bills. In May, her husband will pay the internet bill, possibly with credit cards.

Beyond that, she said, “there’s always the library.”

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Satanic Temple co-founder challenges Florida Gov DeSantis to debate on religious freedoms

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Satanic Temple co-founder challenges Florida Gov DeSantis to debate on religious freedoms

The Satanic Temple’s (TST) co-founder challenged Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to a debate on religious freedom after the governor singled out satanists by saying they were not allowed to participate in a new chaplain program signed into law last week.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill into law that allows school districts to adopt volunteer school chaplain services.

Under the bill, each school in the state has the option to adopt a policy allowing volunteer school chaplains to provide support services and programs for students. The bill also requires principals of schools with volunteer school chaplains to inform all parents of the services being provided, while also requiring written parental consent before students participate or receive the services.

On Thursday, DeSantis stressed the program was “totally voluntary for a parent or a student to participate.”

FLORIDA BILLS WOULD ALLOW SATANIC PRIESTS TO SERVE AS VOLUNTEER CHAPLAINS IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said The Satanic Temple is not a religion. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

He also made clear that members of TST would not be able to serve as public school chaplains.

“Some have said that if you do a school chaplain program, that, somehow, you’re going to have satanists running around in all our schools. We’re not playing those games in Florida,” DeSantis assured the people in the crowd. “That is not a religion. That is not qualified to be able to participate in this. So, we’re going to be using common sense when it comes to this. You don’t have to worry about it.”

As the bill moved through the state legislative process, TST threatened to sue the state if any of its members were banned from serving as chaplains in the program.

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After School Satan Lucien Temple

Lucien Greaves, is spokesman for The Satanic Temple, photographed outside a Salem courthouse. (Josh Reynolds for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

TST co-founder, Lucien Greaves told Fox News Digital the governor has made multiple comments about the organization without any knowledge of who they are or what they believe.

“This should be of significant concern to anybody, regardless of their own religious views,” Greaves said. “Worse, in signing HB 931 into law, the governor simply announced, from the podium at a press conference, that Satanists were to be considered unqualified for the school chaplaincy program while citing no legal theory to support his view.”

The co-founder of TST said the legislation indicates DeSantis is unaware of how the law works and unaware that the bill he signed into law “does in fact allow Satanic chaplains in schools,” revealing the governor is unaware of the limits of his authority.

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Baphomet/Satanic Temple

The Baphomet statue is seen in the conversion room at the Satanic Temple in Salem, Massachusetts, on Oct. 8, 2019. (JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images)

After making the comments, Greaves posted on X that the IRS recognizes TST as a tax-exempt church.

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“If FL’s Republican administration deliberately excludes the group from the state’s new school chaplain program, that would constitute the kind of discrimination that would likely fail in court,” he posted.

The executive director of operations at TST, Rachel Chambliss, also sent an invitation to DeSantis to participate in a public debate with Greaves, regarding their status as a federally recognized religious organization.

“In light of Governor DeSantis’ recent remarks concerning our involvement in Florida’s new School Chaplain program, we find ourselves in respectful disagreement,” Chambliss wrote. “We believe that a public debate would provide an excellent platform to thoroughly discuss the principles of religious freedom in America.”

DeSantis’ office did not respond to Fox News Digital’s request for comment on the matter.

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Still, Greaves called the governor’s actions “erroneous.”

“If I am correct, and DeSantis is merely engaging in empty grandstanding with a complete disregard for the intelligence of the people of Florida, he will surely ignore this challenge,” Greaves added.

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