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Biden asks Congress for $24 billion in more Ukraine assistance

Posted on Facebook, on Feb. 20, 2023, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, right, and U.S. President Joe Biden shake hands during their meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

(CNN) — President Joe Biden is asking Congress for more than $24 billion for Ukraine and other international needs as he works to sustain support for the war amid signs of softening support among Americans.

The request – which includes more than $13 billion in security assistance and $7.3 billion for economic and humanitarian assistance for Ukraine – sets up a potential battle with Republicans in Congress, some of whom voice skepticism about providing Ukraine any more money. As a counteroffensive wears on and prospects of the war concluding soon appear slim, the funding will act as evidence of whether U.S. support for Ukraine can be sustained.

The new funding request, which will be unveiled later Thursday, will be paired with a $12 billion request for new funding for disaster relief, potentially sweetening the package for skeptical Republicans who have voiced concern about approving more Ukraine aid.

It also includes $3.3 billion meant to fund infrastructure in countries affected by the Russian invasion, an attempt at preventing coercive Chinese lending from taking hold in those nations. It also includes $4 billion in funding for border security.

In total, the supplemental request adds up to roughly $40 billion.

“As the impacts of Russia’s war reverberate around the globe, the United States is committed to maintaining strong global opposition to Russia’s illegal war,” wrote Biden’s budget director Shalanda Young in a letter to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Thursday laying out the request.

How long U.S. support for Ukraine can continue has been a pressing and open question among the global coalition that’s rallied behind the country since Russia’s invasion in February 2022. Biden has promised support will last “as long as it takes,” but an increasingly skeptical Republican Party has cast doubt on U.S. commitment to the battle.

The leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, former President Donald Trump, has voiced deep skepticism about U.S. involvement going forward, and promised if elected again he could resolve the conflict in 24 hours though he has not detailed how he would accomplish that feat.

Eager to get behind their party’s nominal standard-bearer, many Republicans have begun questioning the wisdom of spending billions in Ukraine, calling for greater oversight in how U.S. money is being spent or vowing to oppose any further funding.

Administration officials said Thursday it remained unclear how much more funding Ukraine would need from the United States to sustain its war going forward.

“We don’t know how much longer this war is going to go on, or how much more assistance we might need to support Ukraine. We won’t be bashful about going back to Congress beyond the first quarter of next year if we feel like we need to do that,” a senior administration official said.

A CNN poll released last week found 55% of Americans believed Congress should not authorize additional funding to support Ukraine compared with 45% who said Congress should authorize such funding. Fifty-one percent said the United States has already done enough to help Ukraine. A poll conducted in the early days of the Russian invasion in late February 2022 found 62% felt the United States should have been doing more.

Partisan divisions have widened since that poll, too, with most Democrats and Republicans now on opposing sides of questions on the U.S. role in Ukraine.

Ahead of the funding request, the White House sought to underscore the importance of helping Ukraine sustain its fight against Russian aggression.

“For people that might be concerned that the costs financially are getting too high, we would ask them to consider what those costs – not just in treasure but in blood, perhaps even American blood – could be if Putin subjugates Ukraine and then sets his sights on our NATO allies, because we obviously have a security commitment to protect our NATO allies,” said John Kirby, a spokesman at the National Security Council.

“This is a fight that’s much bigger than just about Ukraine’s sovereignty,” Kirby said.

In December, Congress approved $45 billion to help arm Ukraine – more than the administration requested at the time, a sign of questions about the willingness of a GOP-held House to approve future packages. The funding was meant to last through Sept. 30.

A spending showdown

The new supplemental request comes as Congress is headed for a spending showdown in the fall. The government has to be funded by Sept. 30, and Congress is expected to need a short-term spending bill to give the House and Senate more time to negotiate. It’s not clear yet if there would be the bipartisan, bicameral support necessary to attach any of the president’s supplemental requests to that stopgap measure.

But, there are some items on Biden’s list that also face a Sept. 30 deadline. Funding for firefighter pay raises lapses at the end of September, putting more urgency on that piece of the request.

The timing for the fight over Ukraine funding meanwhile is less certain. A source familiar with the funding estimated to CNN that there was still at least $6 billion left for the administration to access. The source estimated it could be enough to get to the end of the year if the administration continues funding the war effort at the pace it has been. But it will be up to the White House and Congress to ultimately decide how quickly to push for the new funding.

The debate over Ukraine funding is expected to reveal a deep divide between Republicans in the House and Senate. While Mitch McConnell, the GOP leader in the Senate, has been a dogged supporter of funding the war effort in Ukraine, McCarthy has expressed more skepticism saying in the past he doesn’t support a “blank check” for the country and right after the debt deal passed in June that he was not ready to get behind additional funding for Ukraine, arguing it was a violation of the deal they’d just agreed to.

“I don’t think the first answer is to do a supplemental,” McCarthy told CNN in June.

There is still broad bipartisan support for giving Ukraine more security aid, but the ranks of Republicans opposed to the funding is significant. Seventy House Republicans voted in July on an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act to strip Ukraine of all US military aid. The measure failed, but still revealed a deep schism in McCarthy’s ranks on the issue of Ukraine funding. Other Republicans have warned that Ukraine’s performance on the battle field could also have an impact on how the party thinks about funding the effort abroad.

It’s still not clear where McCarthy would come down faced with pressure from defense hawks in his ranks and confronted by reality that U.S. military funding for Ukraine was running low. When McCarthy made his comments in June, there was still plenty left in military assistance. McCarthy could face political retribution for putting it on the floor at all, a delicate calculus that could impact how quickly a supplemental moves through Congress.

McConnell, meanwhile, is actively making the case for the money.

During an event in Louisville, Kentucky, he pushed back on arguments from House Republicans – and some Senate Republicans – that Russian aggression in Ukraine is not an issue for the United States.

“People think, increasingly it appears, that we shouldn’t be doing this. Well, let me start by saying we haven’t lost a single American in this war,” McConnell said. “Most of the money that we spend related to Ukraine is actually spent in the U.S., replenishing weapons, more modern weapons. So it’s actually employing people here and improving our own military for what may lie ahead.”