Congressional Democrats are reportedly moving to hold a House vote as soon as Tuesday on a nearly $40 billion aid package for Ukraine that would delink assistance to the war-torn nation from $10 billion in additional Covid pandemic funding.
The aid package would add $3.4 billion in military aid and $3.4 billion in humanitarian aid to an earlier Biden administration request for $33 billion in assistance to Ukraine, bringing the total to $39.8 billion, according to multiple reports.
The plan represents a shift in strategy after Senate Democrats had considered combining the Ukraine and Covid aid packages in an effort to pass the pandemic funding that has been stalled for weeks. Republicans had signaled that they would not support that combined legislation due to an ongoing dispute over border policy. GOP lawmakers have demanded that the Covid bill be accompanied by a vote on an amendment preventing the Biden administration from ending a pandemic immigration policy known as Title 42, which allows for the quick expulsion of migrants at the southern border.
The decision to move ahead without the Covid funding comes at the behest of President Joe Biden, who informed congressional leaders that he wants the two aid packages to move separately to avoid delaying the aid to Ukraine. “We cannot afford delay in this vital war effort. Hence, I am prepared to accept that these two measures move separately, so that the Ukrainian aid bill can get to my desk right away,” Biden said in a statement. “However let me be clear: as vital as it is to help Ukraine combat Russian aggression, it is equally vital to help Americans combat COVID. Without timely COVID funding, more Americans will die needlessly.”
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters Monday that the administration had nearly exhausted the drawdown authority used by Biden to send weapons to Ukraine, with only about $100 million left, or only enough to last until about the third week of May.
Republicans reportedly have yet to agree to the new plan, though aid to Ukraine has broad bipartisan support in Congress. Senate Republicans reportedly have pushed for a larger, $8 billion increase in military aid.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has advocated for decoupling the two funding packages. “I’m focused on getting it done without extraneous matters on it,” he told Punchbowl News on Monday of aid to Ukraine. “And getting it done quickly. We need to do it without this Covid issue and Title 42. And I believe the president’s agreed with that.”
Biden signs lend-lease act: The president on Monday signed into law the Ukraine Democracy Defense Lend-Lease Act of 2022, a separate bill from the aid funding that will help speed the process of sending U.S. weapons and supplies to Ukraine. The legislation had passed the House by a 417-10 margin and cleared the Senate unanimously.
The bottom line: The outlook for Covid funding remains clouded, but with Ukraine aid money quickly running out, the new assistance package became urgent. “Democrats’ decision to decouple the pandemic aid is a painful one for some in the party who have worried about how else they can force Republicans to support a Covid aid plan that’s languished for months in Congress,” Politico’s Sarah Ferris and Burgess Everett write. “But other Democrats have been publicly and privately warning their leadership not to delay the U.S. aid to Ukraine as the brutal Russian assault intensifies.”