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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

As Biden urges Congress to aid allies, GOP discord casts doubt on U.S. support for Ukraine

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)

WASHINGTON – On Thursday night, President Joe Biden used a primetime address from the Oval Office – something that has traditionally been reserved for delivering only the most important messages to the American public – to make the case for continued support for Ukraine, “unprecedented” aid to Israel, funding for border security and more.

“We’re facing an inflection point in history – one of those moments where the decisions we make today are going to determine the future for decades to come,” Biden said, arguing that U.S. isolation would mean more chaos in the world, not more safety for Americans.

“What would happen if we walked away?” Biden asked. “We are the essential nation.”

While Biden’s speech was broadcast and livestreamed to millions of Americans across the nation, his most important audience was just down Pennsylvania Avenue. At the Capitol on Friday, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives spiraled further out of control as hardline Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio continued losing support for his bid for speaker despite – and partly because of – death threats his GOP opponents have received from Jordan supporters.

Shortly before Jordan lost his third straight vote for speaker, the White House officially delivered Biden’s request to Congress for $105 billion in spending to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia’s invasion, to help Israel defend itself against Hamas, to bolster security at the U.S.-Mexico border and more.

The president’s request includes $61.4 billion for Ukraine, $14.3 billion for Israel and $9.1 billion for humanitarian assistance – some of which could be used for people displaced in Ukraine, Israel and from Israel’s retaliatory strikes in the Gaza Strip. Another $6.4 billion would go to improving border security, $1.2 billion to counter the proliferation of the synthetic opioid fentanyl, as well as aid to Taiwan and other efforts to counter China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific region.

But even as Jordan’s leadership bid was flagging, it demonstrated the growing power of a subset of Republicans who resist more support for Ukraine. In late September – just before Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., took the fateful step of working with Democrats to avoid a government shutdown, for which GOP hardliners ousted him as speaker – the House voted on a measure that would send $300 million to Ukraine.

While that sum is far lower than Biden has requested for Ukraine, the vote illustrated the divide among House Republicans over any additional funding for the country’s defense, much of which would go to U.S. defense contractors that supply Ukraine’s military.

Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Spokane, Dan Newhouse of Sunnyside and Mike Simpson of Idaho Falls – all Republicans – voted in favor of the funding. Rep. Russ Fulcher, a Republican who represents North Idaho and is part of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus, voted no. The largely symbolic vote only happened because Republicans stripped the aid for Ukraine from a defense spending bill to gain the GOP support it needed to pass.

On Friday, Fulcher voiced unequivocal support for Israel – calling the benefits of strong U.S.-Israeli relations “immeasurable” – but said he would not support additional military aid to Ukraine “without further evaluation and accountability.”

“I did support the initial bill to send funding to Ukraine as clearly they needed our help and support,” he said in a statement. “The last thing we need is pent-up Russian aggression getting the old Soviet Union band back together. However, there are no checks and balances on where the funds are going.”

Because the U.S. government is “not in the fiscal position to be writing blank checks to fight a proxy war against Russia,” Fulcher said, Congress should focus on “other ways to influence the outcome of this war,” such as using sanctions on Russian oil exports to increase the war’s cost for the Kremlin.

Fulcher said he has concerns with other parts of the administration’s request to Congress, because of its impact on the nation’s $33 trillion debt. But he added that “it is about time the White House took some action” to improve security at the southern border, where Border Patrol agents say they have been overwhelmed by an influx of migrants in recent years.

Sen. Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, said she would review Biden’s request and work with her Republican counterparts to craft a bipartisan funding package “that we can get across the finish line as soon as possible.”

“In this precarious moment, it is essential that we continue to stand with our friends across the globe and invest in our own security,” Murray said in a statement. “We must take action to ensure Israel has the assistance it needs to protect itself in the face of Hamas’ horrific terrorist attacks and we also have to provide humanitarian aid to the civilians in Gaza; we must support Ukraine as it defends its sovereignty and its civilians against Putin’s butchery; and we must help the people of Taiwan deter growing threats and aggression from the Chinese government.”

Regardless of what happens in the Senate, Congress can’t act until the House either elects a speaker or votes to empower a temporary speaker to pass legislation in the meantime. In an interview Wednesday, Rep. Kim Schrier, D-Sammamish, said she worries about the impact of the House GOP’s paralysis on the United States’ role in the world.

“I’m deeply concerned about the delay,” said Schrier, whose district stretches from Wenatchee to the Seattle suburbs. “I’m deeply concerned about the message that it sends – both to our allies, about whether the United States can be depended on, and also the message that it sends to Putin and to the rest of our adversaries in the world about how steadfast we are in our support for our allies.”

Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in an interview Tuesday that it wasn’t his place to tell the House how to operate. He said approving more funds for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan and border security are “not urgent, but they’re pressing and they need to be done.”

“Don’t get me wrong, I mean, we should have a speaker,” Risch said, but he pointed out that the administration still has some funds to provide to U.S. allies at its discretion. “We’re not at the point of ‘urgency.’ Should these things get done? Yes, they should and they will, but democracy is not instantaneous.”

In a statement Friday just after receiving the administration’s request, Risch promised to give it his “due consideration” and acknowledged that it “covers a critical set of national security issues,” but he said he wasn’t ready to make any commitments until he and his colleagues had time to fully review it.

Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho, who plays a key role in funding negotiations as the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, said he supports funding for U.S. allies but said it should be offset by eliminating “wasteful or unused government funds.”

“Supporting Israel in its fight against Iranian-backed Hamas terrorists, securing the southern border, empowering Taiwan against further encroachment by the Communist Chinese Party and supporting Ukraine in its fight against Russia are all critically important to the national security of the United States,” Crapo said in a statement. “However, I am concerned about the tendency of good policy to get highjacked by partisan spending priorities.”

A spokesman for McMorris Rodgers said the Spokane lawmaker supports more aid – including additional “Iron Dome” air defense systems – to Israel and is also “generally supportive of helping Taiwan defend against acts of aggression” from China. She has already supported four spending packages totaling $113 billion to Ukraine, spokesman Kyle VonEnde wrote in an email, but wants conditions attached to any further aid.

“She believes that alongside any additional funding, there needs to be accountability on how the money has been spent up to this point, and where future funding will be targeted,” he said of McMorris Rodgers. “The United States must define what success looks like and strengthen oversight of the funds already appropriated.”

In his address, Biden sought to link Ukraine and Israel, even as he acknowledged the different challenges they face. “Hamas and Putin represent different threats, but they share this in common: They both want to completely annihilate a neighboring democracy,” the president said.