Plus, a reader question about foreign investment in U.S. colleges.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 12 minutes.

The House passes three foreign aid bills and a TikTok divestment plan. Plus, a reader question about foreign investment in U.S. colleges.

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Quick hits.

  1. The Senate reauthorized Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which allows warrantless surveillance of foreign targets living outside the U.S. but often picks up communications with Americans. (The vote)
  2. Israel's military killed 14 people in a raid in the West Bank. (The raid) Israel struck Iran in response to its latest drone and missile attack, but Iran downplayed the strikes and made no indication it would respond. (The strikes) Separately, the U.S. is reportedly working on a deal to forge diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel. (The effort)
  3. Columbia University arrested over 100 pro-Palestine protesters on its campus, including the daughter of Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN). (The arrests) Separately, Google fired 28 employees after a multi-city protest against the company's cloud contract with Israel's government. (The firings)
  4. Opening arguments have begun in former President Donald Trump's "hush money" trial. (The trial)
  5. Today, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in City of Grants Pass v. Johnson, which could determine whether a city can fine or jail homeless people for sleeping in public spaces. (The case)  

Today's topic.

The House foreign aid and TikTok bills. On Saturday, the House of Representatives passed three separate foreign aid bills for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, totaling $95 billion. The House also passed a bill that will ban TikTok from app stores if ByteDance, the Chinese company that owns it, does not sell the app to a U.S. company and also allows the potential transfer of seized Russian assets to Ukraine.

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) helped usher the package across the finish line despite threats from members of the House Freedom Caucus that they'd move to vacate him from the speakership if he passed the bills.

$60.8 billion of Ukraine aid was approved by a 311-112 vote. $26.3 billion of Israel aid was approved by a 366-58 vote. $8.1 billion of security assistance for Taiwan and Indo-Pacific security was approved by a 385-34 vote. The TikTok divestment and Russian asset seizure bill was approved by a 360-58 vote.

Despite all of the bills passing easily, the oppositions to each bill were distinct. First, all 112 votes against Ukrainian aid came from Republicans, requiring Democrats (who voted unanimously in favor) to pass it. Then, the opposition to Israeli aid was bipartisan, with 37 Democrats and 21 Republicans voting against it, followed again by Republican opposition to aid for Taiwan and the Indo-Pacific with 34 GOP members voting against. Finally, there was also bipartisan opposition to the TikTok and Russian assets bill, with 33 opposing Democrats joined by 25 Republicans. 

We covered the possibility of the four separate bills being pushed through Congress in our most recent full-length edition on Wednesday. We also covered the TikTok bill in March

"It's not the perfect legislation, it's not the legislation that we would write if Republicans were in charge of both the House, the Senate, and the White House," Speaker Johnson said. "This is the best possible product that we can get under these circumstances to take care of these really important obligations."

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green (R-GA) called Johnson a "lame duck" Speaker and vowed to remove him, then left Washington, D.C., without bringing up a motion to vacate, raising speculation that she might back off of her threat.

The vote on aid for Ukraine was being closely watched by foreign leaders. Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky cheered the bill’s passage, saying it keeps the war from expanding and will save thousands of lives. The approvals were also celebrated by defense contractors, who stand to win huge contracts to supply equipment to Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan.

A previous effort to pass aid for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan in tandem with border security measures in the U.S. had failed after former President Donald Trump encouraged Republicans to vote against it. Meanwhile, a vote to require ByteDance to sell TikTok or have it banned in app stores had faced a series of hurdles before finally passing the House Saturday. Now all four bills are headed to the Senate, where they are expected to pass later this week before being signed into law by President Biden.

Today, we're going to break down some commentary from the left and right about these bills, then my take.

What the left is saying.

  • Most of the left celebrates the passage of the aid bills, particularly for Ukraine. 
  • Some say lawmakers should be more open to conditional aid for Israel.
  • Others praise Johnson for putting the bills to a vote despite threats from within his caucus.

The Washington Post editorial board wrote “Speaker Johnson and the House show allies can rely on the U.S. — still.”

“With [Johnson’s] support and skillful management of the legislative process, large majorities of the House got an opportunity to work their will, which was to support $95 billion in aid to Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan and others in the Indo-Pacific,” the board said. “The Ukraine measure is by far the most important of the bills, since the country faces the most immediate threat. It is low on ammunition and under relentless Russian military pressure that might lead to major losses or even defeat.”

“This is a historic moment. A de facto bipartisan coalition government has maintained U.S. global credibility. Yet it feels more like an inflection point than a conclusion,” the board added. “More conflict over foreign policy priorities, both between and within the two parties, seems inevitable… Thanks to the votes the House just took, however, the chances are better that tough conversations among allies occur in the context of a U.S. commitment — at least in this crucial U.S. election year.”

In a separate piece, Washington Post editorial board member Shadi Hamid argued “it matters that some Democrats voted against aid for Israel.”

“Thirty-seven of the 213 Democratic members of the House voted against the legislation. In one way, this was a lot. Voting against Israel aid was once exorbitantly risky; it no longer is. On the other hand, for a war as brutal and unpopular as this one, 37 seems like a low number,” Hamid said. “No matter how you look at it, one conclusion is inescapable: There is a divide at the heart of the Democratic Party… In a CBS News poll conducted earlier this month, only 32 percent of Democrats said the United States should send weapons and military supplies to Israel.

“The ‘no’ votes weren’t meant to express opposition to aid for Israel altogether. The problem, rather, is that the bill fails to put any conditions on that aid… It also rewards the Netanyahu government with enhanced and exceptional privileges, enabling Israel to use the money to purchase arms from its own domestic industry as well as to buy U.S. weapons below ‘fair market value,’” Hamid wrote. “For Americans, myself included, the question lingers: If we’re not willing to use our leverage now, is there any circumstance in which we would?”

In Bloomberg, Patricia Lopez said the aid bills show “MAGA hasn’t cowed Johnson.” 

“Instead of catering to MAGA extremists, Johnson declared himself a ‘Reagan Republican,’ rejecting the isolationism that has come to dominate the party’s extremists. It was a refreshing and unexpected turn from Johnson,” Lopez wrote. “It's too soon to know whether this latest battle will prove to be Johnson’s crucible. But he is learning one lesson over and over again. His biggest victories as House speaker have come through the most conventional means: forming coalitions and building on common interests to reach a reasonable middle ground.”

“Efforts like these are not a surrender, regardless of what the extremists may say. They are the only way to govern in a closely divided body,” Lopez said. “However Johnson came to his epiphany on the need for the US to stand by its allies and against the world’s bullies, it reaffirmed this country’s willingness to provide world leadership. It also provided a moment of unity that the House may need to draw on again as it faces down aggressors and tyrants.”

What the right is saying.

  • The right is split on the bills, with many supporting further aid to U.S. allies.
  • Some single out the Ukraine aid as a misuse of resources. 
  • Others criticize Johnson but say House Republicans should keep him as Speaker.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board said “the House votes for a ‘Strong America.’”

“America’s allies and enemies have started to wonder if the U.S. is too consumed with infighting to defend itself and its interests. So put down a marker: Even a dysfunctional and narrowly divided Congress perceives the world’s dangers and has decided to meet the occasion,” the board wrote. “At the core of these bills is U.S. self-defense. Some $23 billion of the roughly $60 billion Ukraine bill will replenish U.S. weapons stocks with better equipment than what America has given to Kyiv. Another $11 billion is marked for U.S. troops in Europe for ship and aircraft maintenance and more.”

“Credit is due [to] House Speaker Mike Johnson, who in recent days explained the stakes in Ukraine with more clarity than President Biden has mustered. He had to defy some on the right who revealed their isolationism by opposing all four bills,” the board said. “Those who say Mr. Johnson betrayed the GOP are peddling a false history. Mr. Johnson from his first days as Speaker revealed himself as a conservative in the mold of Ronald Reagan… Saturday’s votes are a show of will from the United States that will reverberate around the world.”

In The Federalist, Shawn Fleetwood argued “D.C.’s ‘America Last’ crew has no plan for ending the Russia-Ukraine war.”

Johnson “has gone above and beyond to break his repeated pledge to secure the U.S.-Mexico border before advancing foreign funding… It’s no secret that the D.C. political class cares more about fortifying Ukraine’s borders than America’s,” Fleetwood wrote. “More than two years and $113 billion later, Ukraine isn’t any closer to beating Russia than the day Moscow launched its invasion. There has been no explanation from the Biden administration or any ‘Ukraine First’ member of Congress on what they view as a reasonable resolution to the conflict.”

“Instead of fantasizing, America’s leaders must recognize the current situation in Eastern Europe for what it is. And that means acting like statesmen and negotiating a settlement to end the bloodshed and blank checks. You don’t have to be a Putin stooge to recognize that dumping endless amounts of U.S. funds into Kyiv without proper oversight and a clear, obtainable objective is a disservice to the American taxpayer and the tens of thousands of Ukrainians being slaughtered in a war they can’t win.”

In PJ Media, Grayson Bakich wrote Johnson’s speakership “is hanging by the edge of an atom.”

“Republicans are particularly talented at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory precisely because infighting costs them their ability to focus on the long game. Democrats are all-in on almost everything they do and are terrifyingly patient in achieving their goals. But why not support getting rid of Johnson? If there is even a single vote that can disrupt their plans, they will wait until they retake the House in November,” Bakich said. “So, for now, they are content to keep Johnson around because he has at least caved on doing some of what they want.”

“The most benign reason I can think of for why Johnson has seemingly betrayed his trust is simply because of external circumstances. The White House and the Senate are controlled by Democrats, meaning if you can prevent some bad policies from being unleashed on the American public, any good ones will sit collecting dust on Senator Chuck Schumer's (D-N.Y.) desk,” Bakich wrote. “So even if you want to fight back against a bad policy like foreign aid without any provisions for America, your slim majority in the House won't guarantee it will pass. All acts of resistance will be effectively symbolic.”

My take.

Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, don't unsubscribe. Write in by replying to this email, or leave a comment.

  • House Republicans are seeing that they may have misstepped in ousting McCarthy.
  • Johnson is clearly being outmaneuvered by Democrats, but it is also hard to imagine what his other options are. 
  • I mostly support foreign aid bills, but still generally oppose the forced divestiture of TikTok because of the legal precedent.

One of the unfortunate truths in politics is that sitting members of Congress will only say the truth on certain issues when they are off the record. Here are two anonymous quotes from Republican members of the House — published in Axios — that caught my eye:

"[We] could have gotten the Democrats to fold on a variety of border policy changes... But in the end, we lost our leverage because we weren't negotiating as a majority," one House Republican told Axios.

"Truthfully they might prefer losing," another House Republican told Axios about conservative hardliners.

In a lot of ways, the last 48 hours have demonstrated what I warned Republicans about when the House Freedom Caucus replaced Kevin McCarthy with Mike Johnson. From the beginning, I’ve said that I respect the House Freedom Caucus (HFC) for maximizing their power and doing their best to decentralize the control leadership has of the entire chamber. It is a good thing for more individual members to be able to "flex," so to speak, and members of the HFC pursued some genuinely positive rule changes while threatening to remove McCarthy.

But I also wrote about the potential unintended consequences of ousting McCarthy that HFC members didn’t seem to be considering. For instance, in June of 2023, I wrote:

To be clear: You don't have to support the HFC agenda to support how they’re advancing it. In fact, this may be an especially good thing if you don't support their hardline views. As Philip Wallach noted (under "What the right is saying"), there is a read of this new dynamic that moderates on both sides are becoming more powerful because of the HFC's punitive actions, which could result in more bipartisan legislation, which would represent a tactical blunder by members of the HFC.

In October, after Johnson was chosen as McCarthy's replacement, I said this:

I think Johnson is about to get run over... By the end of this week, this little-known member of Congress who began serving in 2017, has never held a leadership post, and has never negotiated between factions in Congress is going to be in a room with the President of the United States, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries. And he'll be deciding what to do about the most important world affairs: The war in Ukraine, the Israel-Palestine conflict, the southern border, and our multi-trillion dollar budget.

Johnson has navigated the difficulties of his situation much better than I expected, but from a conservative Republican position (i.e. Johnson's position), it's hard to argue he's sufficiently held his ground. Taking quick stock of where things are, I was mostly right to predict that Johnson would get run over and Wallach was 100% correct that there would be a lot more bipartisanship in the post-McCarthy era (something that undermines the House Freedom Caucus's entire strategic gambit).

Remember: Johnson worked past Republican obstruction to pass six spending bills with a bipartisan majority, passed $1.2 trillion in spending opposed by a majority of Republicans, and has now pushed through $95 billion of foreign aid opposed by a majority of Republicans. He also just passed a potential TikTok divestment or ban that is supported by President Biden and many Democrats.

As for the actual bills themselves, let me start with what was least surprising. Funding for Israel was a slam dunk after Iran's retaliation, and I never thought for a moment that legislation wasn't going to pass. It and the Indo-Pacific (read: Taiwan) funding are basically a continuation of longstanding U.S. policy in those regions. Some bipartisan objection to the Israel funding is worth filing away, but it isn't anywhere near where it needs to be to stop it from moving forward down the line.

The really novel stuff here is the $60 billion for Ukraine and the TikTok divestment bill. I'm glad each of these packages was voted on separately (kudos to Speaker Johnson for that) because they really have nothing to do with each other. But my feelings on them are the same as I've articulated before:

I think supporting Ukraine is still worth it, and I think the outcome of passing this now after six months of delay is a massive strategic failure (you can read my full argument about that in our newsletter from late February here). Doubly so because Trump and House Republicans effectively killed any chance at addressing the border issue with congressional action alongside the foreign aid bill. They had a chance to do that with a bill that was more good than bad, but now anything Biden does on the border will be limited to executive action until after the election. Again: This is a strategic failure by the Republican Party, who could have gotten some major priorities passed without control of the White House or Senate by unifying their majority in the House. It was a major missed opportunity for the country, too, because the border crisis is real and needs more than just executive action.

As for the TikTok divestment or ban: I’ve gone back and forth on that idea for a few years, then a few weeks ago I wrote about why I've landed in opposition to it and the can of worms I am worried it might open. I'm genuinely surprised by how that legislation got across the finish line — mostly on its own merits and with broad bipartisan support — so I view this entire sequence of votes as a very mixed bag.

Now we'll wait and see if any member of the House decides to throw Johnson's future into doubt with another motion to vacate. Based on their track record though, I'd warn them to proceed with caution.

Take the survey: What do you think of these bills now that they’ve passed the House? Let us know!

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Your questions, answered.

Q: Should foreign countries be allowed to give universities in America huge amounts of money? Seems to me like the Trojan horse is inside.  

— David from Miami, Florida

Tangle: Honestly? Yes they should. But that’s not what my opinion was when I started looking into the issue more.

This was my thinking when I first read your question: Tuition and fees have jumped by 65% between 2001 and 2021. At the same time, student debt has exploded and the perceived value of a college degree has dropped. And although public schools receive funding from our government, which I don’t have a problem with as an investment in our nation’s future, private schools often receive public money in the form of research grants, too. These same schools that you’re talking about as receiving foreign money from the likes of Qatar, Saudi Arabia, or the United Arab Emirates are the most successful private research schools — places like MIT, Yale, Harvard, Cornell, or Carnegie Mellon. Those schools are some of the ones with the largest endowments, too. It all begs the question: What do they even need foreign money for?

In short: To beat one another. Those elite universities are driving the cost of college up because they’re competing with each other to enhance the college experience. The college rankings arms race implies costlier colleges — smaller class sizes, bigger dorm rooms, better on-campus services, more reputable faculty, and increased study abroad opportunities. The cost of operating an elite university is high.

Okay, but why are foreign governments donating to these schools? It’s not actually to buy influence with our next generation (or to create a generation of pro-Hamas terrorist sympathizers, as some people allege), but actually to buy the prestige and knowledge associated with our world-class education centers. “It reflects the fact that you have ongoing, enormous amounts of collaboration,” Dan G. Currell, former senior advisor in the Department of Education, told the Harvard Crimson

That funding is often for constructing and running global campuses. “Qatar, for example, invited leading United States universities to set up programs in the country. It invited Georgetown for foreign service, Northwestern for journalism, Carnegie Mellon for business administration and computer science, and Texas A&M for engineering. Qatar built each university its own building and provided all the infrastructure necessary for quality academic programs, including an independent student center to serve all the schools and students,” according to Lucie Lapovsky, former President of Mercy College.

But can we really abide these schools receiving billions in unreported funds from foreign countries? Isn’t there good reason to crack down on this?

Crack down, absolutely; eliminate, I don’t think so. Universities were already required to report any gift of over $250,000, and the government is now making that reporting easier and punishing missing reports more severely. That strikes me as a prudent response. Passing broad legislation against foreign governments giving funds to American universities in general would be tremendous overkill, like treating an infected cut on a finger by amputating the arm.

Universities with global reach get funding to pursue grants to work on problems with other universities in other countries all the time, and I don’t think we want to hamstring the ability for our top-class universities to continue to lead in that area. Let’s see if the current response works, and then go from there.

Want to have a question answered in the newsletter? You can reply to this email (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.

Under the radar.

A new presidential poll from NBC News had a surprising result: It appears Robert F. Kennedy Jr’s candidacy is hurting Donald Trump more than Joe Biden. The poll showed President Biden narrowing Trump’s lead over him in a head-to-head matchup to 2 points, with Trump up by a 46-44 margin. However, in a five-ballot poll that includes Kennedy, Jill Stein, Cornel West, and “not sure/wouldn’t vote/other,” Biden leads Trump 39-37 and Kennedy gets 13% of the electorate, with a greater share of Trump voters than Biden voters from the head-to-head match supporting Kennedy. Further, the survey found the election hit a 20-year low in “high interest” from voters. NBC News has the poll


  • 4%. The percentage of weapons the U.S. has sent Ukraine as a percentage of its own stockpile, according to the Kiel Institute Ukraine Support Tracker.
  • 59%. The percentage of weapons the Czech Republic has sent Ukraine as a percentage of its own stockpile, the highest percentage of any country.
  • 33. The number of House Progressive Caucus members (out of 99) who voted against the Israel aid bill. 
  • 36%. The percentage of Americans who support sending military aid to Israel, according to a March 2024 survey by Pew Research.
  • 50%. The percentage of Americans who support providing humanitarian aid to Palestinian civilians in Gaza. 
  • 34. The total number of “no” votes on the Indo-Pacific security bill, the fewest of the four bills. 
  • $80 million. The size of the military aid package the U.S. sent Taiwan in August 2023, the first-ever transfer of U.S. military equipment to the island nation.
  • 27%. The percentage of Americans who think TikTok should be banned unless it’s sold to a non-Chinese company, according to a March 2024 survey by CNBC.

The extras.

Wednesday’s survey: 842 readers answered our survey on the separate funding bills with 88% supporting funding for Ukraine, the most of any option. “It has been a long time since I learned about a politician and came to the conclusion that he or she was a genuinely reasonable human being whose top priority was doing their job – kudos to Mike Johnson!”, one respondent said.

What do you think of these bills now that they’ve passed the House? Let us know!

Have a nice day.

In honor of Earth Day today: The U.S. Forest Service has teamed up with the Washington State Department of Transportation to develop a network of highway overpasses and underpasses designed to provide safe passage for wildlife. These wildlife crossings have been shown not only to benefit local ecosystems by promoting intra-species genetic diversity but roadways and drivers as well, reducing collisions with large animals by up to 80%. "I think that's a real miracle, that over one of the busiest freeways in the world you're gonna be driving under it, and [a] mountain lion, fox, might be walking over,” said Beth Pratt, regional executive director for the National Wildlife Federation in California. CBS News has the story.

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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.