Why a joint Israel-Ukraine aid plan would struggle in Congress

Why a joint Israel-Ukraine aid plan would struggle in Congress

Congress will almost certainly be able to send Israel a tranche of new defense assistance in the coming weeks, even as the House struggles to elect a speaker.

But here’s the question Hill leaders have to settle first: Whether to link that money with Ukraine aid that’s still stalled.

The speaker-less House Republican majority is still resistant to more Ukraine money, which has sparked speculation in the Senate that combining Israel and Ukraine assistance might make the latter more enticing. Perhaps, the thinking goes, the Senate can jam the House with such an overwhelming bipartisan vote for two top foreign-policy priorities that the combined aid legislation would be impossible not to take up.

In reality, it’s not that simple. The Heritage Foundation, often aligned with conservatives, is aggressively moving to sink the idea of linking funds for the two U.S. allies. And House Republicans are skeptical that the weekend terrorist attacks on Israel would strengthen the case for a two-part aid package.

Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) said his focus is on combining border enforcement funding with Ukraine. Rep. Mike Garcia (R-Calif.), a battleground-seat incumbent, said of Israel and Ukraine: “They should not be coupled together.”

“Israel should be the priority. It needs to move fast. If they have needs, we should meet them and support Israel. The Ukraine conversation is a longer conversation,” Garcia said.

Of the two top speaker candidates, Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) has yet to specify how he’d approach Ukraine aid while Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) is openly skeptical. But Jordan reiterated to reporters on Tuesday that the House should “get [Israel] resources.”
Even senior senators are stopping short of an explicit endorsement — saying only that both Israel and Ukraine’s similarly weighty defense needs should be met with more U.S. help.

In a statement to POLITICO, Appropriations Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said that large majorities in Congress “have made clear that support for Ukraine is pivotal — and our alliance and commitment to Israel is unshakeable. We must and will provide the necessary support for both of our allies to defend themselves, and I will be pushing to get those resources over the finish line as quickly as possible.”

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) Saturday statement on Hamas’ attack against Israel emphasized support for both Ukraine and Israel aid in order to deter Russia and Iran, respectively. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said on CNN Tuesday that the House “has a huge majority vote just sitting there, waiting to support both Israel aid and Ukraine aid.”

In addition, it’s probably too early to write any mega-bill for the two nations. President Joe Biden made clear on Tuesday he wants Congress “to take urgent action to fund the security requirements of our partners.” But until exact amounts from the administration come in, it’s tough to plot out the exact strategy.

And while the Biden team has not directly asked Congress for more Israel aid, it has sought $24 billion for Ukraine. That request was consciously made for three months, not a full year. (More details on further aid requests for both nations could come later this week.)

There’s an argument that linking the two causes together would shake loose the necessary GOP backing for Ukraine money; there’s also an argument that Israel aid could move faster on its own, showing that an oft-dysfunctional Congress can successfully react to crises.

A third argument is also palpable on the Hill: Let’s talk about this another time.

“It seems almost a little unseemly, with Israelis and Americans being held hostage by these terrorists, to talk about the sausage making process of how we bring that aid to both,” Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said. “There will be time for that.”

Anthony Adragna contributed.

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