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Biden’s Cabinet Pushing A Divided Congress To Send Aid To Israel And Ukraine

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken made the case Tuesday that the United States should immediately send aid to Israel and Ukraine, testifying at a Senate hearing as the administration’s massive $105 billion emergency aid request for conflicts in those countries and others has already hit roadblocks in the divided Congress.

President Joe Biden’s Cabinet secretaries are advocating for the foreign aid to a mostly friendly audience in the Senate, where majority Democrats and many Republicans support tying aid for the two countries together. But it faces much deeper problems in the Republican-led House, where new Speaker Mike Johnson has proposed cutting out the Ukraine aid and focusing on Israel alone, and cutting money for the Internal Revenue Service to pay for it.

As the congressional divisions have only deepened, Blinken and Austin told the senators that broad support for the foreign aid would be a signal of American strength to adversaries.

“We now stand at a moment where many are again making the bet that the United States is too divided or distracted at home to stay the course,” Blinken said. “That is what is at stake.”

Austin said that if the United States fails to lead, ”the cost and the threats to the United States will only grow. We must not give our friends, our rivals, or our foes any reason to doubt America’s resolve.”

The two secretaries were repeatedly interrupted by dozens of protesters calling for Israel to end its bombardment of the Gaza Strip, and the hearing had to be suspended as police cleared the room. “Cease fire now!” they yelled. “Save the children of Gaza!”

Biden has requested $14.3 billion for Israel, $61.4 billion to support Ukraine and replenish Pentagon stockpiles of weapons that have already been provided, $9.1 billion for humanitarian efforts in Gaza, Israel, Ukraine and other places and $7.4 billion for the Indo-Pacific, where the U.S. is focused on countering China’s influence. The White House request also seeks roughly $14 billion to protect the U.S. border, including a boost in the number of border agents, the installation of new inspection machines to detect fentanyl and an increase in staffing to process asylum cases.

The drastically narrowed House proposal, which would cost around $14.5 billion, faced immediate resistance among Senate Democrats — and put pressure on Senate Republicans who support the Ukraine aid but are conscious of growing concerns about it within their party. The differing approaches signal problems ahead for the aid as both countries engage in long-simmering, defining conflicts that Biden and many U.S. lawmakers say could have fundamental ramifications for the rest of the world.

“Right now, America faces an unavoidable moment of truth: democracy and freedom are under attack around the globe in ways we have not seen since the end of the Cold War,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., shortly after House Republicans made their proposal public on Monday. He said Republicans should resist “the false allures of isolationism” as Russian President Vladimir Putin has worked to re-assert Russia as a global power and as Hamas has sought the total annihilation of Israel.

Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., said at the start of the hearing that she and the panel’s top Republican, Maine Sen. Susan Collins, are writing “strong bipartisan legislation” that would include aid for both countries, as Biden has requested.

“Make no mistake, we need to address all of these priorities as part of one package — because the reality is these issues are all connected, and they are all urgent,” Murray said.

Despite growing questions about the Ukraine aid within the Republican conference, Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell has forcefully advocated tying the aid for Ukraine and Israel together. He hosted Oksana Markarova, the Ukrainian ambassador to the United States, at an event in Kentucky on Monday and told the audience, “this is a moment for swift and decisive action.”

Markarova said at the event that “this is the time to double down” and that failing to aid Ukraine’s war would embolden Putin and endanger the world.

“If we will not fight for democracy, then who will fight for democracy?” Markarova asked.

As they returned to Washington on Monday night, Senate Republicans who support the Ukraine aid were uncertain of the path forward. Further complicating the package, several of them have been negotiating a package of border security measures that would go beyond Biden’s request, an attempt to help control the influx of migrants, include more money for the United States in the spending bill and perhaps convince more Republicans to vote for it.

Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Senate Republican, said it could complicate Democrats’ efforts to pass the two together if there were a bipartisan vote for the Israel aid alone in the House.

Thune reiterated his support for tying aid for the two countries together but said he is “open to suggestions.”

Republican Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa said she wants to see Ukraine aid passed, and “I don’t care how it happens.” She said she is open to the spending cuts that Republicans proposed for the Israel funding in the House.

In recent weeks, though, a growing group of Senate Republicans have joined the majority of House Republicans who are advocating to slow down or stop U.S. aid to Ukraine. Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance has been one of the most forceful opponents of the assistance, calling Ukraine’s war against Putin and Russia “an endless conflict with no plan from the Biden administration.”

The House could pass the Israel aid by the end of the week. In an interview on Fox News on Monday, Johnson said he would call Schumer to talk about the House bill. He said the legislation would be offset by the IRS funding because “we’re not just going to print money and send it overseas, because the other concern we have that is overriding is our own strength as a nation, which is tied to our fiscal stability.”

The top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, New York Rep. Richard Neal, and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., both immediately rebuked the cuts for the IRS.

“Hamas depends on sham charities and other illicit finance schemes to fund its operations, but this proposal would cut resources to IRS criminal investigators who are actively helping American allies stop terrorist financing and sanctions evaders,” Wyden said.

In a statement, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre called the House proposal a “nonstarter.”

“Playing political games that threaten the source of funding for Israel’s self-defense — now and into the future — would set an unacceptable precedent that calls our commitment to one of our closest allies into question,” she said.


One Response

  1. As noted in the article, the Israeli support package is cheaper, more likely to produce a good result, is more widely supported in the US, and deals with a valuable US ally. It also takes money from an existing government body which has way too much money and power already. So it’s a win all around. The Ukraine package, on the other hand, is ridiculously expensive, is going nowhere for more than a year already, is not as popular amongst Americans (for good reasons), and does not support a serious American ally. It also is a package we cannot afford.

    The only argument the democrats have to tie the two together is that they can thereby twist the arms of those against the Ukraine support package, forcing them to agree to it, since it will be couched as a vote against Israel if they don’t.

    These are the facts. Anything else you hear from the politicians is doublespeak and triplespeak nonsense, and needs to be recognized as such. Try to keep a clear mind when reading AP reporting…

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