Today's D Brief: Austin returns to duty; Speaker Johnson’s dilemma; How Ukraine aid benefits the US; CNO on China’s navy; And a bit more.

Shortly after senators approved $95 billion in new aid for Ukraine and Israel, President Joe Biden lauded its bipartisan passage Tuesday as he urged House lawmakers to put the bill up for a vote, despite stiff resistance from the far-right flank of the Republican party and Biden’s likely election opponent, former President Donald Trump. 

The bill would send $60 billion for Ukraine’s lagging defenses against Russia’s invasion, which will enter its third year next week. Another nearly $30 billion would also be set aside for Israeli military aid, as well as bolstering U.S. defense efforts in the Pacific and the Middle East. 

Twenty-two Republicans joined their Democratic colleagues to pass the bill early Tuesday in the Senate. A previous bill addressing the same priorities, in addition to strict asylum and immigration reform, was recently scuttled by Republicans in both the upper and lower chambers after some in the party (Trump, most notably) acknowledged its successful passage could erode one of the GOP’s chief grievances—record numbers of migrant arrivals at America’s southern border—ahead of the November election. The bill that passed Tuesday included no such border-related reforms, and several key Republicans (including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell) celebrated its benefits to constituents and the public. President Biden did so as well Tuesday afternoon.  

“I want to be clear about something, because I know it’s important to the American people,” Biden told reporters at the White House. “While this bill sends military equipment to Ukraine, it spends the money right here in the United States of America in places like Arizona, where the Patriot missiles are built; and Alabama, where the Javelin missiles are built; and Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Texas, where artillery shells are made.”

Republican Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi similarly told his constituents on Tuesday, “The United States’ economy also stands to gain as 75 percent of the bill’s funding will go to Americans, including $59 billion for weapons production.”

And the Pentagon just published three pages of infographics showing how U.S. states benefit from Ukraine aid, from contracting actions to industrial base expansion and more. Review that document (PDF) here.  

What happens next depends entirely on House Speaker Mike Johnson. “The Speaker is going to have to decide where he wants to be in this chapter of history and whether or not just doing nothing is an option,” North Carolina Republican Sen. Thom Tillis told reporters after Tuesday’s vote. If the House doesn’t act on aid to Ukraine before November, and Russian forces seize more territory, that would possibly have “huge political consequences,” and Republicans “are going to have to answer for that to the people back home,” Tillis said. 

POTUS: “House Republicans: You’ve got to decide,” Biden said in his remarks Tuesday. “Are you going to stand up for freedom, or are you going to side with terror and tyranny? Are you going to stand with Ukraine, or are you going to stand with Putin? Will we stand with America or with Trump?”

“I am grateful to every U.S. Senator who made a morally strong choice today,” Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenskyy said in a video message Tuesday. “The next step is a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives. We anticipate an equally strong moral choice and a decision that will work for the benefit of our shared security,” said Zelenskyy. 

For what it’s worth: There is an obscure procedural move available to House lawmakers looking to advance the Ukraine and Israel aid package. It’s called a discharge petition, but “it is by design an arduous and time-consuming process that has rarely seen success in recent decades,” the New York Times reported Tuesday. The big problem for Speaker Johnson, as Kayla Guo of the Times explains, is that “The [Republican House] majority effectively loses control of the floor.” And after many months of what The Atlantic’s David Frum called the GOP’s “politics of domination,” it seems very unlikely Johnson would consent to any Republican support for that petition approach. USA Today has similar coverage, here

Read more: 

Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Jennifer Hlad. Share your newsletter tips, reading recommendations, or feedback for the year ahead here. And if you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 2018, a 19-year-old shot and killed 17 students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in the Miami suburb of Parkland, Florida. The incident is the deadliest mass shooting at a high school in U.S. history.

Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin checked out of the hospital Tuesday afternoon and was officially back on the job by 5 p.m. ET, according to the Defense Department. However, “On the advice of his doctors, Secretary Austin will recuperate and perform his duties remotely from home for a period before returning to work at the Pentagon later this week,” his press team announced Tuesday evening. Read more about his bladder complications and recent medical history, here

Latest: Austin addressed Ukraine and allies Wednesday morning for the February meeting of the Pentagon-led Ukraine Defense Contact Group. “We’ll work together today on Ukraine’s near-term requirements, including its urgent need for more artillery ammunition and air defense missiles,” Austin said in his opening remarks. “We’ll continue to work together to get Ukraine what it needs to hold on to its gains and to keep pushing back Russia’s illegal occupation in the months ahead,” he said. 

By the way: While Europe is getting faster at making artillery shells, orders placed for Ukraine still take a year or more to reach the country, Defense One’s Sam Skove reported Tuesday. 

As current projections stand, “Assuming a maximum production rate, the U.S. and EU would manufacture 2.6 million 155mm rounds per year by 2025,” Skove writes. “Russian production capacity for 152mm rounds, the Soviet equivalent to 155mm, is estimated to grow to 1.3 million by the end of 2024.” Continue reading, here

New: Ukraine’s military says it sank another Russian navy vessel, the landing ship Caesar Kunikov. According to a video accompanying the allegation, Magura V5 sea drone boats were used yet again to sink the vessel in the Black Sea early Wednesday. The BBC calls the target a “big Russian amphibious ship.” Ukrainian intelligence officials claimed the Kunikov “suffered critical holes in its port side and began to sink” after the predawn strikes. 

“If its sinking is confirmed, it would be the second successful strike in the Black Sea this month,” according to the BBC. “A small warship, the Ivanovets, was sunk by drones in a special operation almost two weeks ago.” The Associated Press has more.

Additional reading: Poking the [Russian] Bear: Social Media and Human Intelligence Recruitment,” via Dan Lomis of Britain’s Royal United Services Institute, writing Wednesday. 

Around the services

More than just numbers: The U.S. Navy needs to grow, but the service will still be able to compete with China’s larger force using America’s 355 ships because it’s not really about the numbers, Chief of Naval Operations Lisa Franchetti said Tuesday in San Diego.

“It’s about how you put it all together,” she said. “It’s platforms on, under, and above the sea. It’s the networks that enable them. It’s cyber. It’s our work in space. It’s work with all the joint force. They are incredible force multipliers,” Franchetti said at the AFCEA West conference, which Defense One’s Patrick Tucker and Lauren Williams are attending this week. 

Some of those “force multipliers” in the future will be a fleet of “autonomous and unmanned surface, air, and undersea drones” the Navy plans to incorporate into its operations, but Franchetti said it could take 15 years for those drones to be operating “at speed and scale.” Read more from Patrick and Lauren, here

As the Air Force works toward its goal of thousands of robot wingmen to fly alongside its manned fighter jets, the service is getting ready to winnow its pool of potential vendors within the “next few months,” Defense One’s Audrey Decker reported Tuesday from Colorado. 

The service has five companies on contract right now for what it calls “collaborative combat aircraft,” or CCAs: Anduril, Boeing, General Atomics, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman. But it will narrow the pool to just two or three companies soon, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall told reporters. 

“Three is going to be difficult because of the level of funding we have in the budget. With some cost sharing from industry, I think we could do three, and that would be our preference,” Kendall said, noting that the service may carry more than one vendor into the production phase. Read more, here.