Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Biden’s aid plan for Israel, Ukraine splits Republicans in House, Senate

By Michael Birnbaum,John Hudson,Jacob Bogage and Jeff Stein Washington Post

Congressional Republicans appeared split on Tuesday over how to handle President Biden’s $106 billion request for international priorities, including military aid for Israel and Ukraine, as key GOP senators appeared at odds with House Speaker Mike Johnson’s strategy to corral his raucous caucus.

The divisions promised yet more uncertainty after weeks in which House Republicans were unable to settle on a leader, and marked the first major test for Johnson amid two international crises. At a Senate hearing on the administration’s proposal, Biden’s top foreign policy lieutenants warned that Washington’s rivals will endeavor to exploit American dysfunction - and that Ukraine’s ability to press its offensive against Russia could peter out within weeks if funding is not renewed.

Johnson (R-La.) faced immediate backlash over his first key legislative decision, as the newly elected GOP leader seeks to unlock emergency aid for Israel without tethering it to additional support for Ukraine. His approach - countering Biden’s request with a significantly smaller bill that also seeks cuts to the Internal Revenue Service, a top priority for the right - took fire from both parties, and the White House promptly labeled it a non-starter.

The administration also panned Johnson for leaving out Biden’s funding proposals for humanitarian assistance, increasing immigration enforcement and countering China.

House Republicans are expected to try to pass their alternative legislation through the House on Friday.

On Tuesday, Senate Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Appropriations Committee appeared to be in broad agreement about a need for swift approval of a major package that would help Israel and Ukraine.

Testifying in front of the Senate committee, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin sought to connect assistance for Ukraine and Israel to U.S. leadership across the globe and to efforts, they said, by both Russia and Iran to challenge U.S. friends and allies.

Iran and Russia pose a joint threat to the United States and its allies, they argued, saying that aid to help Ukraine fight back against Russia would also deal a blow to Tehran.

“We’ve seen Iran provide munitions and drones to Russia, and Russia use abilities to attack Ukrainian infrastructure, attack civilians, towns and villages across the land,” Austin told senators. He said that the United States wanted to make sure “we’re dialing back some of the capability. They’re connected. So I think it’ll have an impact on what Iran is doing for Russia as well.”

The hearing was one of the first public indicators of whether Biden will be able to win congressional support for his political strategy on Ukraine - which is to request $61 billion, a major sum, in the hope that he won’t have to ask again before the 2024 elections.

Funding for Ukraine and Israel enjoys relatively wide bipartisan backing, but a growing number of Republicans have become skeptical on help for Kyiv, leaving its approval in doubt.

Congress cut out aid for Ukraine when it fended off a possible government shutdown at the end of September, leaving U.S. military assistance dwindling as the weeks have dragged on without legislative action. The decision unsettled Kyiv and European allies about whether Ukraine could reliably depend on Washington ahead of the U.S. presidential election next year.

The Hamas attack on Israel a week later sparked a new regional crisis and increased demand on U.S. military stocks to help allies.

It was not immediately clear how many House GOP lawmakers objected to Johnson’s move to split up the aid. Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), chairman of a House subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia, joined three Democrats in a letter to Johnson urging him to package the supplemental funding requests.

“The reality is these issues are all connected, and they are all urgent,” Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) told fellow lawmakers during Tuesday’s hearing. “Our adversaries are cheering for dysfunction. So let’s instead show them unity.”

The Republican vice chair of the committee, Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), said she also favored a single effort to help Israel and Ukraine.

“Some have argued for decoupling funding to address these threats, and focusing only on the Iranian-backed terrorists who massacred so many Israelis on October 7,” Collins said. “We must recognize that our national security interests are being aggressively challenged by all of these authoritarian actors in an effort to dismantle the international order that we established following World War II.”

Both Blinken and Austin have said that supporting Ukraine and Israel is crucial to advancing U.S. foreign policy interests, with Kyiv’s ability to fend off an expansionistic Kremlin at stake and Israel facing a major security threat from Hamas following the cross-border attack.

U.S. adversaries “continue to do everything they can to disrupt us,” Blinken told the committee, in an opening statement that was repeatedly interrupted by protesters calling for a cease-fire and for the protection of civilians in Gaza. Capitol police arrested 12 people protesting inside of the Dirksen Senate Office Building, a spokeswoman for the agency said.

“Many are again making the bet that the United States is too divided or distracted at home to stay the course,” Blinken said. “That’s what’s at stake with President Biden’s national security supplemental funding request.”

Austin echoed the concern that a failure to approve aid would lead to a less-stable world.

“In both Israel and Ukraine, democracies are fighting ruthless foes who are out to annihilate them. We will not let Hamas or Putin win,” Austin said. “Only firm American leadership can ensure that tyrants and thugs and terrorists worldwide are not emboldened to commit more aggression and more atrocities.”

U.S. policymakers are hoping to avoid a regional war in the Middle East, in part by sending sufficient aid to Israel such that rivals - chiefly Iran - are deterred from attempting additional attacks on the country. The amount that the White House requested for Israel, $14 billion, is more than four times what the United States sent the country last year.

Blinken also offered the most detailed accounting to date about U.S. citizens trapped in Gaza, where they have been struggling for weeks to escape amid an aggressive Israeli bombing campaign. The Biden administration has been pushing to open the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt, thus far unsuccessfully.

About 400 U.S. citizens and their family members, totaling roughly 1,000 people, are trying to get out, Blinken said.

The State Department has been in touch with Americans stuck in Gaza through phone calls, emails and WhatsApp messages, Blinken said.

Lawmakers asked Blinken why their constituents in Gaza couldn’t escape through the Rafah border crossing from southern Gaza to Egypt.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) said an Oregon family in Gaza received three messages from the State Department to “drop everything and go to the Rafah crossing,” he said. “They waited until dark each time: Nothing happened. They weren’t interfered with by Hamas, just the gate never opened,” Merkley said.

He pressed Blinken on why Americans can’t pass through the gate when aid trucks transit from Egypt into Gaza. “Why can’t we get them through that gate?” he asked.

Blinken did not provide an explanation other than saying Hamas has been the “impediment.” Blinken said the United States has “not yet found a way to get them out by whatever, through whatever place and by whatever means that Hamas is not blocking.”

- - -

Bryan Pietsch, Ellie Silverman and Marianna Sotomayor contributed to this report.


Video Embed Code

Video: Demonstrators disrupted Secretary of State Antony Blinken during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on Oct. 31, as war between Israel and Hamas raged on.(REF:bartonj/The Washington Post)

Embed code: