The push for another deadly aid package comes as lawmakers and the Biden administration alike seek to double US support for Ukraine as the country’s war with Russia in the Donbass region enters a new phase. The president will formally request the money next week when lawmakers return to Washington.
“I support a package to address continued research and investment, as well as therapeutics and vaccines that we need for Covid… but I also think it’s very important to get that help to Ukraine as soon as possible,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (DN.H.) told reporters on a conference call from the Balkans, where she was traveling this week with Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Thom Tillis (RN.C.).
Murphy said he was “open to any avenue that is expeditious” to bring both aid to Ukraine and Covid support to the president’s desk. Tillis, on the other hand, said that while he supports new funding for Covid therapeutics, that shouldn’t slow Ukraine’s share.
“If that [Covid aid] Discussion will take a matter of weeks, we need to make a decision on Ukrainian support within hours or days,” Tillis said.
The urgency for new aid follows multiple lawmakers’ visits to the region during the two-week recess in Congress. Last week, Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and Ukrainian-born Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.) became the first American officials known to have traveled to Ukraine since the Russian invasion began in February are.
Biden on Thursday announced $800 million in additional military aid to Ukraine, revealing that he has “nearly used up” a key fund that Congress created as part of the latest Ukraine package. He said he will ask Congress next week for additional funds “to sustain Ukraine for the duration of this fight” and “to keep the flow of arms and ammunition uninterrupted.”
The president said he wanted Congress to act on the request “quickly” but it could be slowed down if lawmakers try to address other White House priorities. And amid criticism of Title 42, Democrats have been discussing possibly creating legislation to provide additional funds for the border.
Covid aid was suspended ahead of the current congressional break after Republicans tried to stop Biden’s decision to scrap Title 42. Since then, the pressure on Biden has only increased, including from his own party. Granting amendment votes to Title 42 would be difficult for Democratic Senate leaders given the possibility that enough Democrats would side with the Republicans.
Nonetheless, Congress’ top priority remains to provide additional military and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine and to ensure that the aid is delivered promptly and with as few red tape as possible. Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday she plans to seek help “as soon as possible next week,” though her spokesman Drew Hammill later clarified that there was “no specific timeline for a plenary vote at this time.”
Before the break, the Senate unanimously approved a bill to restore a World War II-era program known as Lend-Lease, which would allow the US to more efficiently send arms and other essential supplies to Ukraine, with a promise of payback at a later time .
Speakers of the House of Representatives are discussing putting this legislation on the table next week and sending it to Biden’s desk. It would be put to the vote in a procedure requiring the support of two-thirds of the Chamber for passage.
Lawmakers are also exploring additional humanitarian aid avenues to help rebuild Ukrainian cities and towns hit by Russian shelling. And they view Biden’s upcoming request for military assistance as a possible means of any related action.
For example, Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) recently introduced legislation that would allow the Biden administration to do so Using confiscated Russian assets to fund reconstruction efforts in Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has vowed everything will be rebuilt and used the word “reparations” when he asked Russia to pay the bill.
The Justice Department recently launched an initiative known as Task Force KleptoCapture to track the luxury goods of Russian oligarchs. But it will require an act of Congress to transfer ownership of those funds and use them to rebuild Ukraine’s infrastructure. (A similar but not identical bill introduced in the House of Representatives has raised alarm advocates of civil rights.)
In an interview, Bennet said his suggestion was “just common sense.”
“Zelenskyy called [Vladimir] Putin is a butcher and I think that’s the right way to talk about what’s going on here,” Bennet said. “The least we can do is ensure that the proceeds from the billionaires who made Putin possible help Ukrainians resettle and do the reconstruction and recovery work they will need to do once this war is over.”
Lawmakers from both parties have recognized that a long-term commitment to Ukraine’s security and sovereignty is necessary to prevent the conflict from spilling over to other Eastern European nations, including NATO member countries.
Before the two-week hiatus, the House and Senate almost unanimously passed legislation banning Russian energy imports and suspending normal trade relations with Russia and Belarus. And in March, lawmakers negotiated a $14 billion military and economic aid package for Ukraine as part of a broader government spending bill. It was Congress’ largest engagement with Ukraine to date.
One senator close to Biden even raised the idea of involving US troops in the war – something the president has ruled out.
Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) said recently Congress and the White House should “come to a common position on when we are ready to take the next step and send not only arms but also troops to defend Ukraine.” He added: “If the answer is never, then we invite Putin to another escalation of brutality.”
However, he backed down on these statements a tweet on Mondaywho said he called on the “world community” to keep fighting Putin and he “does not call for US troops to go to war in Ukraine.”
Most lawmakers in both parties continue to oppose measures that would put American and Russian troops in combat, including imposing a no-fly zone, although they insist neither option should be off the table.
Marianne LeVine, Burgess Everett, and Alexander Ward contributed to this report.
https://www.politico.com/news/2022/04/22/biden-ukraine-aid-congress-00027028?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=RSS_Syndication Biden wants more help for Ukraine. Congress won’t make it easy.