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March 2, 2024

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Zelenskyy to address U.S. senators by video as White House pushes Congress to support aid for Ukraine

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will address U.S. senators by video Tuesday during a classified briefing as the Biden administration urges Congress to approve the White House’s nearly $106 billion request for funds for the wars in Ukraine, Israel and other security needs.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced Zelenskyy’s appearance after the administration Monday sent an urgent warning about the need to approve the military and economic assistance to Ukraine, saying Kyiv’s war effort to defend itself from Russia’s invasion may grind to a halt without it.

Schumer said the administration had invited Zelenskyy to address the senators so they “could hear directly from him precisely what’s at stake.” They will also be hearing from the secretaries of Defense, State and other top national security officials.

In a letter to House and Senate leaders and released publicly, Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young warned the U.S. will run out of funding to send weapons and assistance to Ukraine by the end of the year, saying that would “kneecap” Ukraine on the battlefield.

She added that the U.S. already has run out of money that it has used to prop up Ukraine’s economy, and “if Ukraine’s economy collapses, they will not be able to keep fighting, full stop.”

“We are out of money — and nearly out of time,” she wrote.

President Joe Biden has sought a nearly $106 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel and other needs, but it has faced a difficult reception on Capitol Hill. There is growing GOP skepticism about the magnitude of assistance for Ukraine and even Republicans supportive of the funding are insisting on U.S.-Mexico border policy changes to halt the flow of migrants as a condition for the assistance.

“Congress has to decide whether to continue to support the fight for freedom in Ukraine as part of the 50-nation coalition that President Biden has built, or whether Congress will ignore the lessons we’ve learned from history and let (Russian President Vladimir) Putin prevail,” National security adviser Jake Sullivan said Monday. “It is that simple. It is that stark choice, and we hope that Congress on a bipartisan basis will make the right choice.”

But negotiations over the border security package broke down over the weekend as Republicans insisted on provisions Democrats said are draconian, aides said. Talks are expected to resume this week, along with a test vote expected Wednesday.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said Monday that his party is “still at the table.”

Congress already has allocated $111 billion to assist Ukraine, including $67 billion in military procurement funding, $27 billion for economic and civil assistance and $10 billion for humanitarian aid. Young wrote that all of it, other than about 3% of the military funding, had been depleted by mid-November.

Meanwhile, the GOP-controlled House has passed a standalone assistance package for Israel as it fights the war with Hamas in Gaza, while the White House has maintained that all of the priorities must be met.

Growing increasingly uneasy about the death toll in the Israel-Hamas war, Biden’s own allies in Congress are pushing the administration to have Israel commit to reducing civilian casualties and allowing aid to Gaza before sending more military aid.

On Monday, Sen. Bernie Sanders said it would be “irresponsible” for the U.S. to send billions in military aid to Israel war without such conditions.

“What the Netanyahu government is doing is immoral, it is in violation of international law, and the United States should not be complicit in those actions,” Sanders of Vermont said in a floor speech.

“Don’t count me in to support that,” Sanders said.

The new package proposes an additional $61 billion for Ukraine, mainly to buy weapons from the U.S., $14.3 billion for Israel, which includes $10.6 billion for weaponry. There’s also nearly $14 billion for border security, along with aid for the Asia-Pacific region and other U.S. national security provisions.

The Biden administration has said it has slowed the pace of some military assistance to Kyiv in recent weeks to try to stretch supplies until Congress approves more funding.

“We are out of money to support Ukraine in this fight,” Young wrote. “This isn’t a next-year problem. The time to help a democratic Ukraine fight against Russian aggression is right now. It is time for Congress to act.”

House Speaker Mike Johnson reiterated in a statement Monday that House Republicans will insist on border policy changes as part of a Ukraine assistance bill, and he argued Biden has “failed to substantively address any of my conference’s legitimate concerns about the lack of a clear strategy in Ukraine, a path to resolving the conflict, or a plan for adequately ensuring accountability for aid provided by American taxpayers.”

The letter followed a classified Capitol Hill briefing on Nov. 29 for the top House and Senate leaders on the need for the assistance. Defense and other national security officials briefed the “big four” congressional leaders.

“They were clear that Ukraine needs the aid soon — and so does our military need the aid soon,” Schumer told The Associated Press in an interview at the time.

Schumer said earlier Monday that both Republicans and Democrats in his chamber agree on funding for Ukraine, as well as Israel, but that the funding has been halted for weeks by GOP demands that border security policy be included in a final package.

Schumer, a New York Democrat, said Republicans have pressed for “indefinite detention” of asylum seekers and granting the executive branch power to “shut down” the asylum system, measures that Democrats say go too far.

He is expected to push forward Biden’s supplemental funding package this week, but Republicans are threatening to block its passage with a filibuster as they insist on border security provisions.

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