Path forward for $33 billion Ukraine package muddled on Hill

Path forward for $33 billion Ukraine package muddled on Hill

Both parties are pressing for speedy approval of President Biden’s request for $33 billion in additional aid to Ukraine, but the path forward remains muddled.

Democratic leaders have yet to settle on whether the aid will be combined with other spending priorities such as additional aid for pandemic relief, and as the bill inches through Congress, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee said the upcoming weeks will be “pivotal and very decisive” for the war in Ukraine.

Rep. Michael T. McCaul of Texas said Sunday that “time is of the essence” for Congress to approve additional aid.

“I don’t think we have a lot of time to waste in Congress,” Mr. McCaul told ABC’s “This Week.” “Every day we don’t send them more weapons is a day where more people will be killed and a day where they could lose this war. I think they can win it. But we have to give them the tools to do it.”

President Biden’s $33.4 billion request includes $20 billion in security assistance, $8.5 billion in economic assistance and $3 billion in humanitarian assistance.

Senate Democrats have considered pairing the emergency funding with a stalled $10 billion coronavirus package as a way to thwart Republican opposition to the additional pandemic funds.

SEE ALSO: GOP Rep. Kinzinger suggests U.S. consider use of military if Russia escalates war in Ukraine

Republicans have blocked consideration of the coronavirus legislation over the White House’s proposal to end an emergency order using the pandemic health crisis to justify blocking illegal aliens from entering the U.S.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said lawmakers would need to figure out how to quickly address both issues.

“We have emergencies here. We need to have the COVID money and time is of the essence because we need the Ukraine money, we need the COVID money, so I would hope that we can do that,” the California Democrat said.

In an interview with CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday, Sen. Tim Kaine, Virginia Democrat, said a decision on whether to link the two remained up in the air.

“The procedure of where you put bills together [or] separate them is quirky and sometimes unpredictable,” he said. “We need COVID aid. We need Ukraine aid. We should do them together or separately, but we shouldn’t wait around.”

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat, said Congress “will do what it takes” to ensure Ukraine has the funds it needs.

SEE ALSO: USAID administrator warns of the war in Ukraine expanding into a global crisis

“It is about the international order,” Mr. Menendez told NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “If [Russian President Vladimir] Putin can ultimately not only succeed in the Donbas but then be emboldened maybe to go further, if he strikes a country under NATO, under our treaty obligations with NATO, then we would be directly engaged.”

“Stopping Russia from getting to that point is critically of interest to us, as well as the world so that we don’t have to send our sons and daughters into battle,” he said. “And I think that that ability not to have to send our sons and daughters into battle is priceless.”

Mrs. Pelosi led a delegation of House Democrats for a face-to-face visit with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy over the weekend. The U.S. lawmakers promised that “additional American support is on the way, as we work to transform President Biden’s strong funding request into a legislative package.”

She said Mr. Zelenskyy thanked the lawmakers for the U.S. assistance and “conveyed the clear need for continued security, economic and humanitarian assistance from the United States to address the devastating human toll taken on the Ukrainian people by Putin’s diabolic invasion.”

But as the Senate returns next week to deliberate the final package, the House is not slated to return until after the first week in May, adding more time until the final bill reaches the president’s desk.

“If I were speaker for a day, I’d call Congress back into session, back into work as … we won’t be in session next week,” Mr. McCaul said.

Mr. McCaul echoed remarks by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken that the goal of U.S. support for Ukraine should be to enable a decisive victory over Russia.

“I’ve been to the region twice. [The Ukrainians] can actually win this war,” Mr. McCaul said. “And I think that should be the goal.”

“I think a win would be to go on the offensive in Donbas with this artillery we’re giving them, the howitzers, and these lethal drones and push them out,” he added.

But he said the upcoming weeks will be pivotal to halting Russia’s attempts to seal Ukraine off from the Black Sea by attacking key port cities along the coast.

“We have to stop that,” Mr. McCaul said. “The U.K.’s done a great job with anti-ship weapons in Odesa and [the Ukrainians] actually downed a Russian warship with their own Neptune [missile], which is really phenomenal. And it’s been very inspirational.”