WASHINGTON - The Biden administration has asked Congress to provide more than $13 billion in emergency defense aid to Ukraine and an additional $8 billion for humanitarian support through the end of the year, another massive infusion of cash as the Russian invasion wears on and Ukraine pushes a counteroffensive against the Kremlin's deeply entrenched forces.
The package requested Thursday includes $12 billion to replenish U.S. federal disaster funds at home after a deadly climate season of heat and storms, and funds to bolster the enforcement at the Southern border with Mexico, including money to curb the flow of deadly fentanyl. All told, it’s a $40 billion package.
While the last such supplemental spending request from the White House for Ukraine funding was easily approved in 2022 despite reservations from Republicans, there’s a different dynamic this time.
A political divide on the issue has steadily grown, with the Republican-led House facing enormous pressure to demonstrate support for the party's leader, Donald Trump, who has been very skeptical of the war. And American support for the effort has been slowly softening.
White House budget director Shalanda Young, in a letter to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, urged swift action to follow through on the U.S. "commitment to the Ukrainian peoples’ defense of their homeland and to democracy around the world" as well as other needs.
The request was crafted with an eye to picking up support from Republicans, as well as Democrats, particularly with increased domestic funding around border issues — a top priority for the GOP. The Republicans have been been highly critical of the Biden administration’s approach to halting the flow of migrants crossing from Mexico.
Still, the price tag of $40 billion may be too much for Republicans who are fighting to slash, not raise, federal outlays. As a supplemental request, the package the White House is sending to Congress falls outside the budget caps both parties agreed to as part of the debt ceiling showdown earlier this year.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement there was strong bipartisan support in the U.S. Senate.
"The latest request from the Biden administration shows America’s continued commitment to helping Americans here at home and our friends abroad," he said. "We hope to join with our Republican colleagues this fall to avert an unnecessary government shutdown and fund this critical emergency supplemental request."
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who has championed of support for Ukraine, was more subdued.
"I look forward to carefully reviewing the Administration’s request to make sure it is necessary and appropriate," McConnell said in a statement, "to keep America safe, secure our borders, support our allies, and help communities rebuild after disasters."
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., released a statement urging Congress to swiftly pass critical funding for disaster relief programs while separately considering military aid for Ukraine.
President Joe Biden and his senior national security team have repeatedly said the United States will help Ukraine "as long as it takes" to oust Russia from its borders. Privately, administration officials have warned Ukrainian officials that there is a limit to the patience of a narrowly divided Congress — and American public — for the costs of a war with no clear end.
"For people who might be concerned the costs are getting too high, we’d ask them what the costs — not just in treasure but in blood, perhaps even American blood — could be if Putin subjugates Ukraine," White House national security spokesman John Kirby said this week.
Support among the American public for providing Ukraine weaponry and direct economic assistance has softened with time. An AP-NORC poll conducted in January 2023 around the one-year mark of the conflict, found that 48% favored the U.S. providing weapons to Ukraine, down from the 60% of U.S. adults who were in favor sending Ukraine weapons in May 2022. While Democrats have generally been more supportive than Republicans of offering weaponry, their support dropped slightly from 71% to 63% in the same period. Republicans’ support dropped more, from 53% to 39%.
Dozens of Republicans in the House and some GOP senators have expressed reservations, and even voted against, spending more federal dollars for the war effort. Many of those Republicans are aligning with Trump’s objections to the U.S. involvement overseas.
That means any final vote on Ukraine aid will likely need to rely on a hefty coalition led by Democrats from Biden’s party to ensure approval.
The funding includes money to counter Russian and Chinese influence elsewhere by bolstering the World Bank and providing aid to resist Russian-aligned Wagner forces in Africa. Domestically, there’s an additional $60 million to address increased wildfires that have erupted nationwide. And the request includes $4 billion for the Southern border, including $2.2 billion for border management and $766 million to stop the flow of fentanyl and provide prevention and recovery support. There is also $100 million earmarked for the Department of Labor to ramp up investigations of suspected child labor violations.
To ease passage, Congress would likely try to attach the package to a must-pass measure for broader government funding in the U.S. that’s needed by Oct. 1 to prevent any shutdown in federal offices.
Members of Congress have repeatedly pressed Defense Department leaders on how closely the U.S. is tracking its aid to Ukraine to ensure that it is not subject to fraud or ending up in the wrong hands. The Pentagon has said it has a "robust program" to track the aid as it crosses the border into Ukraine and to keep tabs on it once it is there, depending on the sensitivity of each weapons system.
Ukraine is pushing through with its ongoing counteroffensive, in an effort to dislodge the Kremlin’s forces from territory they’ve occupied since a full-scale invasion in February 2022. The counteroffensive has come up against heavily mined terrain and reinforced defensive fortifications.
The U.S. has approved four rounds of aid to Ukraine in response to Russia’s invasion, totaling about $113 billion, with some of that money going toward replenishment of U.S. military equipment that was sent to the frontlines. Congress approved the latest round of aid in December, totaling roughly $45 billion for Ukraine and NATO allies. While the package was designed to last through the end of the fiscal year in September, much depends upon events on the ground.
"We remain confident that we’ll be able to continue to support Ukraine for as long as it takes," said Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder.
There were questions in November about waning Republican support to approve the package, but it ultimately passed. Now, though, House Speaker McCarthy is facing pressure to impeach Biden over unproven claims of financial misconduct and it’s not clear whether a quick show of support for Ukraine could cause political damage in what’s expected to be a bruising 2024 reelection campaign.
Trump contends that American involvement has only drawn Russia closer to other adversarial states like China, and has condemned the tens of billions of dollars that the United States has provided in aid for Ukraine.
Long reported from Chicago.