The push for another deadly aid package comes as lawmakers and the Biden administration seek to redouble US support for Ukraine as the country’s war with Russia enters a new phase in the Donbass region. The president will formally request the money next week when lawmakers return to Washington.
“I support a package to address research and continued investment and the therapies and vaccinations we need for Covid…but I also think it’s very important to get that aid to Ukraine as quickly as possible” , said the senator. Jeanne Shaheen (DN.H.) told reporters on a conference call from the Balkans, where she traveled this week alongside Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Thomas Tillis (RN.C.).
Murphy said he was “open to any fastest route” to getting both Ukraine aid and Covid assistance to the president’s office. Tillis, on the other hand, said if he supports new funding for Covid therapy, it shouldn’t slow down the Ukrainian side.
“If this [Covid aid] the discussion is going to take a few weeks, we have to make a decision on Ukrainian support in a few hours or a few days,” Tillis said.
The urgency for new aid follows several visits by lawmakers to the region during the two-week Congressional recess. Last week, Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and representative of Ukrainian origin. victoria spartz (R-Ind.) were the first known U.S. officials to visit Ukraine since the Russian invasion began in February.
Biden on Thursday announced $800 million in additional military aid to Ukraine and, in doing so, revealed he had “almost exhausted” a key fund that Congress created as part of the latest Ukraine package. He said he would ask Congress for additional funding next week “to support Ukraine through this fight” and “to keep the flow of arms and ammunition uninterrupted.”
The president said he wants Congress to act “quickly” on the request, but that could be slowed if lawmakers try to tackle other White House priorities. And amid criticism over Title 42, Democrats have been discussing the possibility of crafting an additional border appropriations bill.
Covid aid was suspended ahead of the current congressional recess after Republicans sought to halt Biden’s decision to drop the title 42. Since then, the pressure on Biden has only grown, including at the within his own party. Granting amendment votes on Title 42 would be tricky for Democratic Senate leaders because enough Democrats may side with Republicans.
Yet Congress’ top priority remains to provide additional military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine and to ensure that aid is delivered quickly, with as few bureaucratic hurdles as possible. Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Thursday that she planned to take charge “as soon as possible next week”, although her spokesman, Drew Hammill, later clarified that there was “no specific timetable for a vote in ground at the moment”.
Ahead of the recess, the Senate unanimously approved a bill to restore a World War II-era program known as Lend-Lease, which would allow the United States to more efficiently send arms and other essential supplies to Ukraine with the promise of reimbursement at a later date. .
House leaders are in discussions to introduce this legislation next week and send it to Biden’s office. It would be put to a vote under a procedure that requires the support of two-thirds of the chamber for its adoption.
Lawmakers are also exploring other avenues of humanitarian aid to help rebuild Ukrainian towns destroyed by Russian bombing. And they see Biden’s next request for military assistance as a possible catch-all vehicle for related measures.
For example, Sense. Michael Benet (D-Colo.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) recently introduced a bill that would allow the Biden administration to use seized Russian assets to fund reconstruction efforts in Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy vowed everything would be rebuilt and used the word “reparations” to demand that Russia foot the bill.
The Justice Department recently launched an effort, known as Task Force KleptoCapture, to crack down on the luxury assets of Russian oligarchs. But it takes an act of Congress to transfer title to those funds and direct them to rebuilding Ukraine’s infrastructure. (A similar but not identical bill introduced in the House has raised alarm bells among civil liberties advocates.)
In an interview, Bennet said his proposal was “just common sense”.
“Zelensky called [Vladimir] Poutine a butcher, and I think that’s the right way to talk about what’s going on here,” Bennett said. “The least we can do is make sure that the income from the billionaires who enabled Putin…to help Ukrainians resettle and do the reconstruction and recovery work they will need to do once this war over.”
Lawmakers on both sides have recognized that a long-term commitment to Ukraine’s security and sovereignty is needed to prevent the conflict from spilling over to other Eastern European countries, including including NATO member countries.
Before the two-week break, the House and Senate almost unanimously approved legislation banning Russian energy imports and revoking 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. This was Congress’ largest commitment to Ukraine to date.
A senator close to Biden has even raised the idea of US troop involvement in the war – something the president has ruled out.
Sen. Chris Coon (D-Del.) recently said that Congress and the White House should “come to a common position on when we are ready to take the next step and send not just weapons but troops to help the defense of Ukraine”. He added that “if the answer is never, then we invite Putin to another level of escalating brutality.”
However, he retracted these statements in a tweet mondaysaying he was calling on the “world community” to keep fighting Putin and that he was “not calling on US troops to go to war in Ukraine”.
Most lawmakers from both parties continue to oppose measures that would put American and Russian troops into combat, including the imposition of a no-fly zone, even as they insist that no option should not be ruled out.
Marianne LeVine, Burgess Everett and Alexander Ward contributed to this report.