The White House said Thursday it is now unable to pledge to Ukraine that it will receive more U.S. military, economic and humanitarian aid to help counter Russia’s invasion as the funding continues to get blocked by Congress.
Senate Republicans voted unanimously on Wednesday to block an emergency spending bill to provide US$110.5 billion in funds for Ukraine, Israel and other security needs, as they demand policy changes to control the flow of immigration via the U.S.-Mexico border. Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives, similarly, have vowed to block any funding for Ukraine that’s not tied to more limits on asylum, increased deportations and other conservative immigration proposals.
Asked Thursday if the White House can provide any assurances to Ukraine that additional funding is coming their way, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said no.
“We are not in a position to make that promise to Ukraine given where things are on the Hill,” he said.
The language was a stark change in tone after weeks of assurances by U.S. President Joe Biden and top military and diplomatic leaders to their Ukrainian counterparts that the U.S. will continue to support Ukraine despite the political gridlock.
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Biden’s original US$106-billion national security funding request included about US$61 billion for Ukraine. The White House has said the new money is critical as existing funding dries up, estimating they will have fully exhausted those funds by the end of this month.
The White House’s budget director told congressional leaders in a letter on Monday that failing to approve the new aid will “kneecap” Kyiv’s war effort and economic recovery. The military aid is mostly going toward replenishing U.S. weapons and equipment stockpiles with new equipment to replace those sent to Ukraine, which officials have said will also be harmed if no new aid is approved.
The emergency national security aid package proposed by Biden that was blocked in the Senate, known as a supplemental, includes about US$20 billion for security funding at the U.S.-Mexico border. But Republicans are insisting on backing up that money with policy changes.
Democrats and Republicans had negotiated for weeks to add immigration policy changes to the security bill to win enough Republican votes to pass.
Those talks broke off last Friday, and Reuters and the Associated Press reported that emotions ran so high that a classified Senate briefing on Ukraine on Tuesday erupted into a shouting match from which several Republicans stormed out.
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The heated dispute is also holding up aid to Israel, though for different reasons. While the Senate’s current bill ties Israel with Ukraine, the border and other issues, the House last month passed a standalone US$14.3-billion Israel aid bill that includes cuts to the Internal Revenue Service in order to pay for it. The White House and Senate Democrats have rejected that approach.
“We are left with only two paths forward to break the logjam. Either Republicans can take us up on an amendment offer or we can restart negotiations,” Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said as he opened the chamber on Thursday.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, repeated assertions that Democrats do not take border security seriously enough, but said he hoped for an agreement.
“Hopefully, the Senate can now see a new opportunity to make real progress on legislation that addresses urgent national security priorities both at home and abroad,” McConnell said in the Senate.
Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, who has been a main negotiator in immigration talks with Republicans, said the two sides were meeting on Thursday.
“We need more constructive ideas from Republicans that can get Democratic votes. I’m willing to listen,” he said.
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Biden said on Wednesday that he was willing to make “serious compromises” with Republicans on immigration policy in order to get the Ukraine aid approved. But the White House has rejected the “all-or-nothing” approach taken by some Republicans and criticized the party for using Ukraine aid to get their way.
“They are playing chicken with our national security,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Thursday. “History will remember them harshly.”
Lawmakers said Congress should not leave for a Christmas break in mid-December without legislation being completed.
“It would be irresponsible legislatively for our Republican colleagues to decide that they’re going home to celebrate the holidays, when our allies continue to be involved in existential fights that relate directly to America’s national security,” the top House Democrat, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, said at his weekly news conference.
Amid the uncertainty over the aid, Ukraine this week signed agreements with two U.S. companies to manufacture artillery shells as Kyiv seeks to develop a domestic defence sector. But Ukrainian officials acknowledged it could be at least two years before those operations are up and running.
“For us, it is a matter of survival to create a military industry that matches the scale of the enemy’s industrial capacity,” Ukrainian Defence Minister Rustem Umerov was quoted as saying at a U.S.-Ukraine defence conference held in Washington.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told the conference that Ukraine did not want to rely solely on military aid from allies and aimed to become a donor of security for its neighbours in the future.
—with files from Reuters
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