House nears OK of $40B Ukraine aid, beefing up Biden request

  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., with Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass., left to right, Rep. Greg Meeks, D-N.Y. and Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., and other members of the Congressional delegation that recently visited Ukraine, speaks to reporters outside the West Wing of the White House following a meeting with President Joe Biden, Tuesday, May 10, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

WASHINGTON — A fresh $40 billion Ukraine aid package headed toward House passage Tuesday as lawmakers beefed up President Joe Biden’s initial request, signaling a magnified U.S. commitment to thwart Russian President Vladimir Putin’s bloody three-month-old invasion.

The measure was expected to win wide bipartisan support and had $7 billion more than Biden’s plan from last month, evenly divided between defense and humanitarian programs. The bill would give Ukraine military and economic assistance, help regional allies, replenish weapons the Pentagon has shipped overseas and provide $5 billion to address global food shortages caused by the war’s crippling of Ukraine’s normally robust production of many crops.

The new legislation would bring American support for the effort to nearly $54 billion, on top of the $13.6 billion in support Congress enacted in March. That’s about $6 billion more than the U.S. spent on all its foreign and military aid in 2019, according to a January report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, which studies issues for lawmakers. It’s also around 1% of the entire federal budget.

“Time is of the essence, and we cannot afford to wait,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., wrote in a letter to colleagues. She said the measure “sends a resounding message to the world of our unwavering determination to stand with the courageous people of Ukraine until victory is won.”

The measure was released as Washington has become increasingly assertive about its goals and its willingness to help Ukraine with more sophisticated weapons. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said recently the U.S. wants a “weakened” Russia that can’t quickly restore its capability to attack other countries.

Russian attacks on Ukraine’s southern port of Odesa have intensified in what seems an attempt to hamper deliveries of Western arms. Those weapons have helped Ukraine hold its own surprisingly well against its more lethal foe, but the grinding war is taking its toll.

Senate approval of Ukrainian aid seems certain, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and other Republicans have echoed the need for quick action. But it was unclear when that would occur and changes in the measure were possible, with McConnell insisting that the measure be narrowly focused on the war.

“I think we’re on a path to getting that done,” McConnell told reporters Tuesday. “It needs to be clean of extraneous matters, directly related to helping the Ukrainians win the war.”

Some Republicans used the election-season debate to accuse Biden of being unclear about his goals.

“Honestly, do we not deserve a plan?” said Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas. He said he agrees that Western countries must help Ukraine stand up to Russia but added, “Does the administration not need to come to us with where we are going with this?”

Oksana Markarova, Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.S., attended Tuesday’s separate Democratic and Republican Senate lunches and expressed gratitude for the support they’ve received. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said Markarova told them her country has depleted its stockpiles of Soviet-era weapons and said continued NATO support is vital.

Coons said the Ukrainian’s message was, “‘Thank you, do more. We have a hard fight ahead. With your support, we can win.’”

The new measure includes $6 billion to arm and train Ukrainian forces, $8.7 billion to restore American stores of weapons shipped to Ukraine and $3.9 billion for U.S. forces deployed to the area.

There’s also $8.8 billion in economic support for Ukraine, $4 billion to help Ukraine and allies finance arms and equipment purchases and $900 million for housing, education and other help for Ukrainian refugees in the U.S.

To enhance the measure’s chances in Congress, the House bill drops Biden’s proposal to ease the pathway to legal permanent residency for qualifying Afghans who fled to the U.S. after last summer’s American withdrawal from that country. Some Republicans have expressed concerns about the adequacy of security screenings for applicants.

In their biggest concession, Biden and Democrats had abandoned plans Monday to include additional billions of dollars to build up U.S. supplies of medicines, vaccines and tests for COVID-19. Republican support for more pandemic spending is waning and including that money would have slowed the Ukraine measure in the 50-50 Senate, where at least 10 GOP votes will be needed for passage.

Democrats hope to produce a separate COVID-19 package soon, though its fate is unclear.

Biden met in the White House Situation Room Tuesday with Pelosi and six other House Democrats who traveled recently to Ukraine and Poland. Afterward, Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., a member of that delegation and former Army Ranger, said the Ukrainians need advanced drones and longer range weapons like artillery, rockets and anti-ship missiles that will help them push back the Russians.

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Associated Press writer Farnoush Amiri contributed to this report.

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