In this file photo, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks to the U.S. Congress by video to plead for support as his country is besieged by Russian forces. The video was shown at the U.S. Capitol on March 16, 2022, in Washington, D.C. (J. Scott Applewhite/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is preparing to ask Congress for billions more in aid to Ukraine as the war shifts to the eastern regions of the country, following Russia’s failure to take the capital city of Kyiv.
“I’m asking the Defense Department to put together what they think we need,” Biden said this week.
If Democrats and Republicans in Congress reach a quick agreement on the new Ukraine aid in the coming days and weeks, it’s also possible they could attach stalled COVID-19 aid to the bill and move them through the House and Senate together.
U.S. lawmakers approved $13.6 billion for military, economic and humanitarian assistance just last month to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia’s war and to aid refugees fleeing their home country.
The Department of Defense has quickly exhausted its share of the aid package, sending a wide range of weapons and equipment, including Stinger anti-aircraft systems, Javelin anti-tank missiles, machine guns, rifles, ammunition, body armor and helmets.
Congress expected to receive Ukraine spending request next week
Biden said Thursday that he expects to send Congress another spending request next week, though he and other White House officials have declined to give an amount.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, said during an appearance at the U.S. Capitol with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal that lawmakers would bring up a bill “as soon as we can.”
The House and Senate have been out of session for two weeks, but are scheduled to return to Washington, D.C., early next week.
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Biden’s last Ukrainian aid request, sent up to Capitol Hill on March 3, asked for $10 billion, though Democrats and Republicans settled on $13.6 billion after days of negotiations.
That measure easily passed the U.S. House and U.S. Senate after being attached to a much larger government funding package.
That bill originally included billions more in aid to address the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic domestically and abroad, but that provision was dropped before either chamber held floor votes.
Democrats, Republicans struggle to find common ground on COVID-19 spending
Democrats and Republicans have been struggling ever since to find a path forward to provide more money so the Biden administration can continue several federal coronavirus programs.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki has repeatedly called on lawmakers to advance the full $22.5 billion the Biden administration says is needed to provide testing, treatments and vaccines.
The stalemate over funding eased for about a day earlier this month when Utah GOP Sen. Mitt Romney and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, reached an agreement on $10 billion for domestic COVID-19 programs.
But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said his party would only vote to advance the bill if Democratic leaders agreed to votes on amendments regarding Title 42.
That public health designation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention allows U.S. border patrol officials to expel migrants, including those seeking asylum, because of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
The Biden administration’s plan to end that Title 42 designation in late May has infuriated Republicans and left many centrist Democrats calling for the White House to keep the designation in place until it has a more comprehensive plan for addressing the expected surge of migrants.
Biden has so far rejected those calls, leaving many Democrats who face tough reelection campaigns this November frustrated and the billions needed for ongoing COVID-19 care stalled.
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