WASHINGTON — The U.S. House gave final passage Thursday to legislation that would streamline a World War II-era military lend-lease program to more quickly provide Ukraine and other Eastern European countries with American equipment to fight the Russian invasion.
The measure, which passed by an overwhelming 417-10 vote, now goes to the White House for President Joe Biden to sign into law.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Gregory Meeks of New York said with unified support from the U.S. Congress, “Ukraine will win.”
The bill is the latest from Congress, which is steadily churning out resolutions and resources to counter Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and help the country and its President Volodymyr Zelenskyy fight back. The Biden administration announced Thursday it will seek another $30 billion from Congress in military and humanitarian aid, on top of the nearly $14 billion Congress approved last month to help Ukraine fight the war.
Months in the making, the bipartisan bill was first introduced in January as part of the U.S.’s posture of deterrence to warn off Putin’s aggression towards Ukraine.
The measure would update the 1941 legislation Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law to help allies fight Nazi Germany. At the time, the then-U.S. president ushered the Lend-Lease Act through Congress, responding to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s appeal for aid, even as America initially remained neutral in the war, according to the U.S. National Archives.
Biden is expected to sign the bill into law, giving the administration greater leeway to send military equipment to Ukraine and neighboring allies in Eastern Europe.
“It is a real moment in history that we are back on this House floor supporting lend-lease,” said Rep. French Hill, R-Ark.
The congressman said he hoped the “Churchillian idea” would end delays in shipping aid to Ukraine, much the way the original law sped help to Britain fighting Adolf Hitler’s Germany in World War II.
“Today we find ourselves in a very similar situation with Putin systematically bombing and shelling the peaceful villages and cities of Ukraine,” he said.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi also gave nod to the moment, saying the war is a battle between democracy and autocracy, and echoed Roosevelt’s call on Americans to provide the fuel to keep light of democracy burning.
“Our task today remains the same,” she said. “The Ukrainian people are making the fight for all of us.”
Zelenskyy has repeatedly pleaded for more military equipment from the U.S. and allies, on top of the Stinger and Javelin missile systems, lethal drones and other weaponry that has already been flowing to the region.
The Ukrainian military and its citizens are engaged in a brutal street-level fight to save their country, as Russia bombards cities and villages in Putin’s quest to take control of the nation and make it part of Russia.
Lawmakers in both parties, Republicans and Democrats, have argued that the U.S. is not moving swiftly enough to help the Ukrainians. Countless members of Congress have trekked to the region to see first-hand the devastation, meet with their counterparts in Ukraine and do what they can to offer help with resettling the flood of more than 5 million refugees.
The measure approved by the U.S. Congress would update the 1941 law specifically for the Ukrainian conflict, lifting some reimbursement requirements and allowing military equipment to leant or leased for more than five years.
While the updated legislation had backing from both parties in the House and Senate, it stalled in Congress along with other Ukraine-focused bills. Democratic lawmakers tended to defer to the president of their party to take the lead on foreign policy, especially as Biden worked to build support from allies abroad.
Then, swiftly and without fanfare, the Senate quietly approved the bill from Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, earlier this month on a voice vote without objections.
This week the House pushed it forward on the chamber’s agenda as soon as lawmakers returned from a spring recess.
But tensions run high in Congress over countless issues, and the House debate quickly devolved. Republicans initially focused instead on immigration issues at the U.S. Southern border with Mexico, leading Democrats to blame the House GOP for harboring pro-Donald Trump factions soft on Putin.
“We stand for democracy here, not Vladimir Putin,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., wearing a blue-and-yellow tie in the colors of the Ukraine flag, during a floor debate.
In a heated moment, Raskin criticized GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor-Greene of Georgia for her earlier comments disparaging NATO and Western support for Ukraine. He questioned why she joined the debate to talk about immigration at the Southern border rather than the Russian invasion.
Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, R-Pa., who was managing the early part of the floor debate, insisted the “vast majority of my colleagues” support the lend-lease bill and would see it to passage.