Bipartisan support builds for Ukraine aid package

Funding for weapons, humanitarian assistance likely needed, lawmakers say

President Joe Biden is seen on a television at Harry's bar in downtown Washington as he announced new sanctions against Russia for the attack on Ukraine on Thursday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
President Joe Biden is seen on a television at Harry's bar in downtown Washington as he announced new sanctions against Russia for the attack on Ukraine on Thursday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted February 24, 2022 at 4:20pm

A day after Russia invaded Ukraine, U.S. lawmakers in both parties signaled support for providing military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine, although the amount and timeline for a supplemental funding package remained unclear.

“My colleagues and I are carefully monitoring the situation and stand ready to provide assistance both to our Ukrainian partners and to our allies in Central and Eastern Europe as they confront this crisis,” House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said in a statement Thursday.

President Joe Biden delivered remarks Thursday in which he announced additional economic sanctions on Russia and limits on goods that could be exported to the Kremlin.

He mentioned more than $650 million in defense assistance the U.S. provided to Ukraine over the past year but provided no indication whether he would request additional funding from Congress, either as part of a supplemental package or in his fiscal 2023 budget coming next month.

Fiscal 2022 Defense and State-Foreign Operations appropriations bills written by majority Democrats would provide additional economic and military aid for Ukraine, ranging from $756 million in the House to $803 million in the Senate.

The House-passed State-Foreign Operations bill would provide $125 million to Ukraine's government to purchase U.S. military equipment, while the Defense bill in that chamber has $275 million for direct security aid to Ukraine. Senate versions would provide $165 million and $300 million, respectively.

Biden said he spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy Wednesday night and promised that the United States and its allies would support Ukraine’s defense, although he reiterated that he would not send U.S. troops to Ukraine.

[Lawmakers united in outrage over Putin's 'unprovoked' invasion of Ukraine]

“We’ll provide humanitarian relief to ease their suffering,” Biden said.

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., who chairs the House State-Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, told reporters Wednesday that the administration had already begun calculating what will be needed for humanitarian assistance to Ukraine.

“The administration has committed to us that in the event of conflict, there is a need over the next 12 months of at least $1 billion for humanitarian needs,” she said.

Lee also expressed support for up to $1 billion in previously announced loan guarantees for the Ukrainian government, which could require the U.S. to put up additional funds as a backstop in case of potential defaults.

Lawmakers may get additional information on funding needs during virtual briefings the administration is holding later Thursday.

"As always, we will continue to fully support the people of Ukraine with humanitarian assistance and weapons to defend their country," Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.

[The consensus against using force holds, despite Russia's invasion]

Timing, vehicle up in the air

Congress could attach a Ukraine aid supplemental to the fiscal 2022 omnibus appropriators are currently negotiating and drafting in hopes of passing the full-year funding bills before the latest stopgap measure expires March 11.

However, it’s possible Congress could act sooner to pass a Ukraine supplemental, especially if additional military support is needed.

"We will work hand in hand with the administration. If they need something sooner, we'll deliver something sooner,” House Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif., told reporters Thursday. “But I'm very confident that both parties understand the importance of providing assistance to Ukraine to our NATO allies. And we will do that as promptly as necessary."

Some lawmakers suggested supplemental appropriations should be combined with sanctions and passed quickly after Congress returns from recess next week.

“Congress has a role in the coming days: we need to finalize a package of sanctions, grease the skids for more military aid to Ukraine and make clear that, despite our differences, reasonable Democrats & Republicans are united in condemning Russia’s unwarranted aggression,” Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., a former defense and intelligence official, tweeted.

“The relevant national security committees should come back to DC and finalize the bipartisan package ahead of the March 1 [State of the Union] so that our country can speak with one voice on the world stage," Slotkin wrote.

Other lawmakers issued statements that alluded to potential Ukraine funding but only in generalities.

“We have provided lethal arms to help its people defend themselves against Russian aggression and will continue to offer material and other support as Ukrainians defend their nation,” House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., said.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., said he would work with Biden “to ensure that the United States does all it can to support Ukraine and our allies in Eastern Europe” and “help the innocent people caught in the middle of this needless calamity.”

Republican support

Support for a supplemental materialized even before Russia officially invaded Ukraine.

Senate Budget ranking member and senior appropriator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told reporters Tuesday that he wants Congress to act on a supplemental spending bill when both chambers return from recess next week.

Although he did not offer a specific amount, Graham said funds should be allocated to help Ukraine and America’s NATO allies in Eastern Europe defend themselves against kinetic military attacks and cyber onslaughts from Russia.

Graham said in a tweet Thursday that he spoke with Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and told her “there is broad bipartisan support for an emergency supplemental to include aid to the Ukrainian people and Ukrainian military.”

Other Republicans were quick to push for new spending.

"The United States must stand with the Ukrainian people by immediately providing additional assistance, including military equipment and lethal aid," Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., said in a statement Thursday.

Like DeLauro, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said in addition to Ukraine, more military assistance should flow to other Eastern and Central European nations potentially in the line of fire. He specifically named Poland, Romania and the Baltic nations Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, while calling for an increased troop presence in the Baltics and Poland.

Portman also made a push for a bigger defense budget in the fiscal 2022 omnibus talks. Appropriators are discussing a package of somewhere on the order of $780 billion for defense-related accounts, or above even what this year's defense policy law authorized.

"We must also improve the readiness of our own military as an act of deterrence during the current budget process in order to ensure our most innovative and effective defense technologies receive needed support and to also ensure that our current systems and military hardware do not fall into further disrepair," Portman said.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, in his own statement Thursday echoed Portman. He said the U.S. and NATO "must redouble our material support for Ukraine's resistance, further shore up our allies," and bolster spending "needed for long-term competition with Russia and China."

"Here in Congress, upcoming defense spending measures will provide an opportunity to lead by example," McConnell said.

Some Republicans remain skeptical of coughing up additional taxpayer dollars, even among those who expressed solidarity with Ukraine and hopes that country could defend against Russian aggression.

"If the Russian advance continues, obviously we have to keep the Ukrainians armed. We certainly should have enough out of the Department of Defense to allow … weaponry to be sent over sooner rather than later," Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., an Appropriations Committee member, said in a Thursday interview.

He suggested that the Pentagon could effectively carry out the funds transfer without new legislation. "I don't know if we need an appropriations bill to do that. We might just need an appropriation statement to .. reorganize some of the funds," Harris said. "It's not huge amounts of money, but it is vitally needed if we are to help the Ukrainians defend themselves."

John M. Donnelly, Jim Saksa and Laura Weiss contributed to this report.