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House approves nearly $40 billion in aid to Ukraine as it fights off Russian aggression

The House on May 10 approved a $39.8 billion military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine in a bipartisan vote of 368-to-57. (Video: The Washington Post)
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The House on Tuesday approved nearly $40 billion in additional aid for Ukraine as the country battles Russia’s brutal invasion, now in its third month.

The package of military, economic and humanitarian support, which is $7 billion more than the $33 billion President Biden requested, was approved on a bipartisan vote of 368-to-57, with the Senate expected to follow suit this week.

All House Democrats present Tuesday night voted in favor of the measure. They were joined by 149 House Republicans. Fifty-seven House Republicans voted “no.”

Congress provided $13.6 billion in aid to Ukraine this year, meaning that if the latest package is passed, lawmakers will have approved a total of more than $50 billion in aid.

In remarks on the House floor Tuesday night, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) repeatedly denounced Russian President Vladimir Putin as a “coward,” described the aid package as “an act of mercy” and cast the war in Ukraine as one on which the future of global democracy hinges.

“We should all be very proud that we had the opportunity when Putin decided — whatever it is he decided — to be brutal and cruel and a coward, that we were there to help,” Pelosi said. “It’s about democracy versus a dictatorship. Democracy must prevail. The Ukrainian people are fighting the fight for their democracy and, in doing so, for ours as well.”

According to a summary provided by the House Appropriations Committee, the package includes nearly $15 billion in military equipment, training, intelligence support and salaries for Ukraine’s national security forces; nearly $14 billion in programs administered by the State Department, such as humanitarian support for Ukrainian refugees and the planned return of the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv; and $5 billion devoted to addressing the issue of global food insecurity.

Pelosi led a congressional delegation to Kyiv last month and met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. In a letter Tuesday to House Democrats, she noted that the latest package goes even further than Biden’s request in including additional military and humanitarian aid.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday afternoon that he spoke with Biden last week and asked that the Ukraine package move “by itself and quickly.”

“It needs to be clean of extraneous matters directly related to helping the Ukrainians win the war,” McConnell told reporters.

As Tuesday’s House debate on the measure got underway, however, some Republicans voiced opposition to the speed with which the legislation had been brought to the floor. At one point, Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tex.) forced a vote on a motion to adjourn, arguing that lawmakers were not given enough time to read and debate the bill. The motion failed.

“You want to talk about standing up alongside Ukraine?” Roy said. “Why don’t we actually have a debate on the floor of the people’s House, instead of the garbage of getting a $40 billion bill at three o’clock in the afternoon, not paid for, without having any idea what’s really in it?”

Several lawmakers hailed the aid package as one that will have repercussions far beyond Ukraine.

“This bill contains precious resources to deal with the global food crisis that has been deepened by the Russian invasion,” said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who was part of the congressional delegation that traveled to Eastern Europe in recent weeks. “This is truly a defining moment in our history, in Ukrainian history, in Poland’s history and in the world’s history.”

Exiting their respective party lunches Tuesday afternoon, Senate Democrats and Republicans each expressed a measure of optimism that both chambers of Congress could act to send a bill to Biden’s desk by the end of the week.

Recounting the Democratic gathering, where Ukrainian Ambassador to the United States Oksana Markarova spoke, Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) told reporters that lawmakers heard a “heartfelt and easy-to-understand message.”

“People are dying, they’re running out of supplies and ammunition [and] they need our help quickly,” he said of Markarova’s message. He noted that the top diplomat told Democrats, “Thank you and speed it up.”

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said he thought that the Senate could vote “as early as the end of the week,” noting that at one point, Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) “were talking by phone in the middle of the lunch, so I think it was really being negotiated.”

Republicans offered a similarly hopeful note. Sen. Richard C. Shelby (Ala.), the top GOP lawmaker on the Senate Appropriations Committee, described the talks as “really, really close; we’re on the right track.”

“Let’s see what the House does,” he said. “If it’s good and palatable . . . we’ll take it. But we got to see.”

In a joint letter to lawmakers Monday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin urged Congress to approve the aid package, saying the remaining authorized funds would run out by May 19. The Biden administration has only $100 million left in authorized money for supporting Ukraine, the secretaries said.

“In short, we need your help,” they wrote.

The authorized drawdown funds, which send equipment and arms from the Pentagon’s stocks, have been used to ship dozens of 155 mm howitzers, tens of thousands of artillery rounds and hundreds of drones, among other military supplies. Last Friday, Biden announced another drawdown aid package to Ukraine that included additional munitions and radar equipment.

“The ability to draw upon existing [Defense Department] stocks has been a critical tool in our efforts to support the Ukrainians in their fight against Russian aggression,” the secretaries wrote to Congress. “We urge you to act quickly on the Administration’s request.”

Biden expressed optimism Monday that lawmakers would approve the spending plan quickly. In a bid to hasten congressional passage, the president said he had retracted earlier plans to combine the Ukraine proposal with coronavirus funding legislation in a single draft bill.

“I have been informed by congressional leaders in both parties that such an addition would slow down action on the urgently needed Ukrainian aid — a view expressed strongly by several congressional Republicans,” he said. “We cannot afford delay in this vital war effort.”

Aid for Ukraine has so far enjoyed bipartisan support. Last month, the House voted 417 to 10 to pass a lend-lease bill that aims to expedite weapons shipments to Ukraine. Only a few weeks before, the Senate had passed it unanimously. Biden signed that bill Monday.

Even so, 31 Senate Republicans voted in March against a sweeping, $1.5 trillion spending bill to fund government agencies and departments through the remainder of the fiscal year — a bill that also included $13.6 billion in assistance for Ukraine. In the House, the measure was opposed by 54 Republicans and 15 Democrats.

The measure was approved by both chambers and Biden signed it into law, saying the United States was “moving urgently to further augment the support to the brave people of Ukraine as they defend their country.”

Jeong reported from Seoul. Mariana Alfaro and Tony Romm contributed to this report.

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