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Biden urges more U.S. military funding for Ukraine, Israel in Oval Office address

President Joe Biden addresses the nation on the conflict between Israel and Gaza and the Russian invasion of Ukraine from the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Thursday.  (Jonathan Ernst/Pool/AFP/Getty Images North America/TNS)
By Courtney Subramanian Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden used a rare Oval Office address Thursday to urge Americans to support more military funding for Israel in the wake of a deadly Hamas attack and more aid for Ukraine in its protracted war against Russia.

“I know these conflicts can seem far away, and it’s natural to ask why does this matter to America?” Biden said in his speech, adding that Israel’s and Ukraine’s success are “vital for America’s national security.”

The address was only the second Biden has given from behind the Resolute Desk during his presidency. On Friday, the White House is expected to formally request as much as $100 billion in emergency assistance from Congress over the next year to boost aid for the war-torn nations. The request is expected to also include money for Taiwan and the U.S. border with Mexico.

Biden traveled this week to Tel Aviv, where he met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss Israel’s military campaign against Hamas and push for more humanitarian assistance for civilians trapped in the crossfire in the Gaza Strip.

“Hamas’ terrorist attacks against Israel. The need for humanitarian assistance in Gaza. Russia’s ongoing brutal war against Ukraine,” Biden said in a social media post previewing the speech. “We are at a global inflection point that is bigger than party or politics.”

The president sought to tie the foreign conflicts together as part of a broader threat to U.S. national security and global stability.

“When terrorists don’t pay a price for their terror, when dictators don’t pay a price for their aggression, they cause more chaos and death and more destruction,” he said in his address. “They keep going, and the costs and the threats to America and the world keep rising.”

But he faces an uphill battle in Congress, where progressive Democrats have spoken out against sending more weapons to Israel and right-wing Republicans have questioned continued military assistance for Ukraine.

In August, the White House asked for $24 billion in aid for Ukraine as part of a supplemental funding request, but the provision was left out of a short-term spending measure despite an appearance by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the U.S. Capitol.

Before the speech, Biden spoke with Zelenskyy to underscore “continued strong bipartisan support” for Kyiv, according to a White House readout of the phone call.

But U.S. public support for supplying Ukraine with weapons has waned, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released Oct. 5. The survey found 41% of respondents agreed Washington should supply weapons to Ukraine, compared with 35% who disagreed. In May, 46% of respondents said the U.S. should send weapons to Ukraine, compared with 29% who were opposed.

The U.S. has so far provided more than $75 billion in military, humanitarian and financial aid to Ukraine, according to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy.

House Republicans’ failure to elect a new speaker to replace ousted Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has also halted Congress, limiting the lower chamber’s ability to act on any request made by the president.

Biden arrived in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, hours after a massive blast at a Gaza Strip hospital killed hundreds of people, prompting Israel and the Hamas-run Health Ministry to blame the opposing side for the devastating attack. The president reiterated in his Oval Office address that he agrees with Israel’s version of events.

Biden had initially planned to travel Amman, Jordan, to meet leaders from Israel, Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority, which has no ruling position in Gaza but oversees the larger West Bank. The meeting was scrapped before Biden’s plane left Washington.

During his trip to Israel, Biden vowed to help restore the beleaguered country as a “safe place for the Jewish people.”

“And I promise you: We’re going to do everything in our power to make sure that it will be,” he said in a speech after meeting Netanyahu and his war Cabinet.

But Biden warned Israelis not to be “consumed by rage,” using the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the U.S. as a cautionary tale, noting that while the United States sought and found justice, it also made mistakes.

More than 1,400 people have been killed in Israel and 3,400 in Gaza since the conflict began Oct. 7 with Hamas’ surprise incursion of the Israeli border.

In Biden’s only other Oval Office speech, in June, he delivered remarks after reaching a deal with then-Speaker McCarthy to avoid defaulting on the nation’s debt, a deal that was scrapped months later by House Republicans.