‘Critical’ Ukraine Aid, COVID-19 Funding Facing Potential Roadblocks in Congress | National News



President Joe Biden on Thursday renewed his calls for Congress to swiftly pass tens of billions of dollars in additional Ukrainian aid as well as more COVID-19 funding. But both priorities face an uncertain path if they’re linked together and could cause further delays of aid Biden and others deems critical.

The two distinct emergency aid packages have bipartisan support, especially when it comes to funding for Ukraine to counter Russia’s unabating invasion. But the legislative process could threaten swift passage of aid seen as time sensitive. And on top of that, Republicans remain committed to demands for a vote on a Trump-era border policy as part of virus funding.

Speaking from the White House, Biden more than doubled his last request by seeking an additional $33 billion in military, economic and humanitarian aid for Ukraine while also wanting approval for a plan to seize and liquidate assets of Russian oligarchs. And he reiterated his calls for $22.5 billion in funding to restore the federal government’s coronavirus testing, vaccine and therapeutics capacity, though senators ultimately struck a $10 billion bipartisan deal.

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“I hope Congress will move on this funding quickly. I think they will. Let’s get both of these critical tasks done,” Biden said in remarks on Thursday about both aid for Ukraine and pandemic relief. “No delays, no excuses – just action now.”

Democrats are interested in pairing both aid packages because aid to Ukraine is urgent and garners stronger bipartisan support than the virus package. They believe linking them will better ensure passage of emergency virus funds, but it’s unclear how exactly they’ll move forward, especially since Republicans made it clear they want separate votes. But Democrats see that strategy as the best way to get it all done, especially since the $10 billion agreement on COVID-19 aid has stalled for weeks.

Republicans maintain that they want any additional pandemic relief to also include a vote on delaying the end of Title 42, the public health order implemented by the Trump administration allowing the expulsion of migrants who cross the border because of COVID-19 concerns.

Since the GOP blocked a vote on that funding earlier this month, a growing number of Democrats – moderates and those facing tough reelection races in November – are also opposed to Biden’s plan to end the order on May 23 and worry about a potential influx at the border. Democrats will need to weigh whether to give into demands for a vote on Title 42 in the event Republicans won’t budge and delay Ukraine and COVID-19 aid.

Title 42 has played an outsized role in Congress’ legislative fights, though the courts could soon make the issue moot. A federal judge from Louisiana issued a temporary restraining order against reversing the order before May 23, the date when Biden plans to wind it down.

Both parties are essentially daring the other to take tough votes to put themselves on the record and hold the other accountable, with Democrats painting a vote against a combined package as a vote against Ukraine. But if leadership gives in to an amendment vote on Title 42, it’ll increase the pressure on critical Democrats to follow through on their support of extending the public health order and going against the leader of their party.

“We want to put people on the record on whether or not they support this really awful decision about this administration to backtrack again on a border policy that’s at least had some success in controlling and keeping the number of illegal crossings somewhat under control,” Senate Minority Whip John Thune of South Dakota told reporters on Wednesday.

Despite the partisan squabbling, Democrats and Republicans overwhelmingly want to provide more aid to Ukraine, though it’s unclear if the hefty price tag will change some minds.

“I don’t care how they do it. I’m sending them both up. They can do it separately or together, but we need them both,” Biden said Thursday when asked about lumping the two together in one bill.

A senior administration official on a call with reporters prior to the announcement said it “certainly makes sense for them to move together” but added that “we’re not going to get too far ahead of the legislative process.” And in his letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, Biden asked Congress to include pandemic funds into the emergency supplemental for Ukraine.

But Biden, who served in the Senate for three decades, usually defers to Congress about the mechanisms to advance legislation, especially with such tight margins in both chambers. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at Thursday’s briefing that there will be “full court press from us” in engaging with lawmakers and committees to accelerate progress.

Democrats haven’t formally landed on how they’ll proceed. The trickier part is maneuvering legislation through a split 50-50 Senate where Democrats will need at least 10 Republicans to join them and break a potential filibuster. And their narrow majority in the House could also complicate such legislation, especially if Title 42 ultimately gets attached to it since progressives back Biden’s plan to end it and could threaten to withhold support of the package.

“On both Ukraine funding and COVID funding, Republican obstruction will not serve the American people,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said Thursday, warning about the lack of funds to buy enough U.S.-manufactured antiviral pills. “We may not have them all because of delay and political games on the other side stopping the COVID legislation.”

But Republicans are already indicating they can’t support a package that combines the two. Thune told reporters on Wednesday that such a strategy by Democrats will “complicate passage for either” aid to bolster Ukraine and combat the pandemic.

But time is limited. The House ends the week early to start its recess on Friday and won’t return for votes until May 10. While the Senate will stay in session during that time, both chambers have a smaller window before departing again for Memorial Day weekend, potentially pushing the aid packages to the summer if unresolved.


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