President Joe Biden urged Congress on Monday to quickly approve a multibillion-dollar aid package for Ukraine before trying to pass a new round of Covid-19 funding, warning that U.S. aid for that country’s fighters has nearly been exhausted.
Biden’s new position marked a reversal from his insistence last month that the military aid and the pandemic funding be bundled together. Decoupling the two bills significantly increases the chances Congress will pass the $33 billion in requested Ukraine funding, while dimming hope for the $10 billion in Covid relief funds Biden said are necessary to supply updated vaccines and shots for the fall.
“Previously, I had recommended that Congress take overdue action on much-needed funding for COVID treatments, vaccines and tests, as part of the Ukraine Supplemental bill,” Biden said in a statement released by the White House.
“However, 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,” Biden said.
“We cannot afford delay in this vital war effort,” he said. “Hence, I am prepared to accept that these two measures move separately, so that the Ukrainian aid bill can get to my desk right away.”
Biden on April 28 had asked Congress to allocate $33 billion intended to cover humanitarian and military aid to Ukraine through September. Under Biden’s proposal, nearly two-thirds of that sum would go toward security and military assistance for Ukraine as it fends off invading Russian forces.
In his statement Monday, Biden said the additional funding is both necessary and urgent, with money for shipments to Ukraine set to run out in 10 days’ time. “I have nearly exhausted the resources given to me by a bipartisan majority in Congress to support Ukraine’s fighters,” he said.
“This aid has been critical to Ukraine’s success on the battlefield. We cannot allow our shipments of assistance to stop while we await further Congressional action,” Biden said.
His statement acknowledged that while there appears to be bipartisan support for the aid package, there is no such consensus for more Covid funding. Republicans had opposed Democrats’ efforts to pair the money for Ukraine with the additional pandemic relief funding.
“So I call on Congress to pass the Ukrainian Supplemental funding bill immediately, and get it to my desk in the next few days. And then, I urge Congress to move promptly on the COVID funding bill,” Biden said.
He stressed that more congressional action is required to address the pandemic.
“Without timely COVID funding, more Americans will die needlessly,” he said. “In the fall, if we are hit by new variants, it will be too late to get the tools needed for protection — critical treatments that will be available in Europe, but not the United States.”