UNITED STATES NEWS

Biden’s Cabinet secretaries will push a divided Congress to send aid to Israel and Ukraine

Oct 30, 2023, 9:04 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken will make 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 will be 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.

The drastically narrowed House proposal, which would cost more than $14 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.

In prepared remarks for Tuesday’s hearing, Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., will say that she and the panel’s top Republican, Maine Sen. Susan Collins, are writing a bill that would include aid for both countries, as Biden has requested. The White House request also includes money for Taiwan as it faces threats from China and added dollars to manage the influx of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“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 will say.

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.

___

Associated Press writers Seung Min Kim, Fatima Hussein and Tara Copp contributed to this report.

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Biden’s Cabinet secretaries will push a divided Congress to send aid to Israel and Ukraine