$33 Billion Ukraine Aid Bill At Risk of Being Bogged Down By COVID Bill Tie-In

$33 Billion Ukraine Aid Bill At Risk of Being Bogged Down By COVID Bill Tie-In
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) during a news conference in the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center in Washington, D.C. on April 28, 2022. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Joseph Lord

A $33 billion aid package to Ukraine that President Joe Biden asked Congress to pass could face hurdles over efforts to tie the bill together with an unrelated $10 billion COVID package.

Biden’s April 28 request includes $20.4 billion in military assistance along with $8.5 billion in economic assistance. The package also includes $3 billion in humanitarian assistance to address food shortages around the globe.

“The cost of this fight is not cheap, but caving to aggression is going to be more costly if we allow it to happen,” Biden said during a live address on April 28. “We either back the Ukrainian people as they defend their country, or we stand by as the Russians continue their atrocities and aggression in Ukraine.”

The measure already has several proponents in Congress.

“Today, President Biden sent Congress his request for $33 billion in emergency funding to support the Ukrainian people,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a tweet. “I will make sure the Senate prioritizes this important funding package so we can get help to the Ukrainian people fast.”
“President Biden’s $33 billion Ukraine aid request is another step—by no means the last—in keeping faith & fulfilling our commitments,” wrote Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) in another tweet. “Congress must put its money where its mouth is—matching rhetoric with real action.”

“If Putin thought he could invade Ukraine with impunity, this request by @POTUS is another reminder that he made a severe miscalculation,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) wrote on Twitter. “Now, Congress must act with the urgency this moment demands to approve this additional funding to support Ukraine.”

In the past, several Senate Republicans have supported such measures, and several have joined Democrats in coming out in favor of the package.

“There is a desperate need for this assistance. We can’t play politics with this. We have to get this done,” Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said in support of the bill.

“The sooner the better on Ukraine,” Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said.

However, some Democrats hope that they can attach a $10 billion COVID relief bill to the foreign aid package.

That bill, worked out weeks before, stalled in Congress after Republicans demanded that the bill include an amendment blocking Biden’s plan to end Title 42, a Trump-era rule that allowed Border Patrol agents to turn away many illegal aliens apprehended at the border over public health concerns.

Some Democrats, particularly those in vulnerable seats like Sens. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), have joined Republicans in opposing the White House’s plan to overturn Title 42 as the United States continues to face unprecedented levels of illegal immigration.

If Democrats insist on attaching the COVID bill to the aid package these old conflicts could be reignited, potentially slowing the progress of a bill that, on its own, has relatively broad bipartisan support.

Asked about suggestions to combine the two bills, Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), the ranking Republican member on the Senate  Foreign Relations Committee, said simply, “That’s not going to happen. That’s an awful way to do business.”

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) told reporters that such a scheme could slow the progress of both bills—or kill them entirely.

“I think the prospects of each being passed would be greater if they were kept separate and if each had the potential for amendments,” he said.

It remains unclear whether Democrats, who have remained frustrated by GOP demands that have slowed the COVID bill, will try to force the two together.

If they do, some Senate Democrats in vulnerable seats may feel obligated to support a Title 42 amendment. However, this would all but doom the package in the House, where Democrats retain a slight edge.

Nick Ciolino contributed to this report. 
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