The Biden administration, along with staunch supporters of Ukraine in both political parties, is fervently pushing to overcome conservative opposition in Congress. Their goal is to secure funding for the conflict in Ukraine and provide assistance for Israel.
In a rare show of bipartisan unity, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin championed the administration's substantial request for almost $106 billion in funding on Tuesday. Mitch McConnell, the Senate GOP leader, emphasized the intertwined nature of threats facing both Israel and Ukraine in his address. He also hinted at a shared understanding with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Politico reported.
Simultaneously, backroom discussions were underway between congressional Republicans and national security adviser Jake Sullivan, as well as other officials from the administration, about the aid proposal. However, the new House Speaker's inclination to prioritize Israel in his inaugural major bill, leaving Ukraine aside, adds a layer of complexity.
This heightened activity signifies concerns from the White House and its allies that the requested funds might face delays or changes in Congress. Such challenges arise from a split government where staunch opposition from House conservatives, and to a lesser extent the Senate, can impede the president's primary objectives.
While the Biden team is optimistic about the passage of an aid bill, they acknowledge that the final version might differ from their initial proposal. Expressing a willingness to discuss border-related elements of the bill, an official from the White House showed a shift towards meeting some of the Senate GOP's main requests.
House Speaker Mike Johnson's choice to exclusively focus on an Israel-oriented bill, which cuts significant IRS funding, has raised eyebrows. Centrist politicians are anxious about navigating the convoluted politics surrounding the issue. As the deadline of Nov. 18 approaches, there's also heightened concern about a potential government shutdown.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski voiced her concerns, saying, "I wish that I could say that now that the House has a speaker and that they’re back in, that we’ve got some more certainty with how we’re going to move on this supplemental."
“I certainly hope we are not at that point in 18 days where we haven’t figured out how to keep the government open,” Murkowski added. “And we haven’t sent a strong message from the U.S. Congress about our support for Israel, our support for Ukraine and supporting ourselves here, from the border perspective.”
“Based on the appropriations hearing today, I am confident,” said Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.). “But things change.”
However, the forceful representation by Blinken and Austin in the Senate's initial hearing on the supplemental request, combined with evident bipartisan backing, offered temporary relief to those apprehensive about the funding.
Fears within the administration are predominantly centered around the allocation for Ukraine. The sizable $60 billion proposed for the country was an ambitious number from the outset. Yet, in discussions with legislators, officials from the Biden administration have emphasized the significance of consolidating aid for both Israel and Ukraine.
As Politico details, the ideal outcome for the White House would involve Schumer and McConnell agreeing on an aid amount that can bypass a filibuster, subsequently challenging the House to either accept or decline it. McConnell, while being supportive of extensive funding for Ukraine paired with Israel assistance, has been vocal about the necessity of a stronger border security aspect in the package to gain enough GOP support.
Uncertainties remain regarding whether this bill will be merged with the continuing resolution, which is due to pass Congress before the end of Nov. 17. There are additional reservations, especially among Senate Republicans, about the humanitarian funding in the proposed package, with concerns that funds intended for ordinary Palestinians might end up benefiting Hamas. Some GOP senators also seem willing to adjust the Ukraine-related funds in the proposal, potentially to appeal to House Republicans reluctant to combine aid for both countries.