Senate eyes pairing Ukraine money with aid for Israel

Senate eyes pairing Ukraine money with aid for Israel

October 10, 2023 09:36 AM

Senators hope to combine Ukraine aid with military assistance for Israel following a failed attempt to pass the controversial funding last month.

Congress has committed more than $100 billion to Ukraine in the 20 months since Russia’s invasion, but a White House request for another $24 billion has been met with resistance by House conservatives skeptical the conflict serves U.S. interests.


Senate leadership tried to pressure reluctant Republicans into voting for the funding in September by pairing it with $16 billion in much-needed disaster relief. The vehicle for the aid, a must-pass bill to fund the government, raised the prospect of a shutdown unless it was approved.

The chamber scrapped its plans, however, at the last minute after then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) abandoned a hard-line funding measure, to the surprise of lawmakers. Rather than risk a shutdown, the Senate opted to pass the largely “clean” measure the House approved instead.

Now, senators are mulling Plan B — a supplemental that hitches the aid to emergency assistance for Israel, a close U.S. ally that declared war on Hamas on Sunday in response to terrorist attacks that have killed more than 900 people.

Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, floated the idea of combined aid in a Sunday night call the administration convened to brief members on the conflict, according to two sources, as did multiple other senators. In addition, staff-level talks have informally begun while the chamber is on recess this week.

Any request would include precision munitions and missiles for Israel’s Iron Dome defense system. Hamas, designated a terrorist group by the United States, has launched thousands of rockets into Israel, many of which have been intercepted.

For now, the Biden administration has sufficient appropriations to continue supplying the Jewish state, but senators view the bill to be a “proactive” step.

Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said Monday that more funding will be necessary to expand production capacity for both the Israel and Ukraine conflicts.

“We need additional support from Congress, so I hope we’ll see that soon,” she said in a press conference.

Aid for Taiwan, another geopolitical ally, is also being considered as part of the funding bill. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) suggested in a Monday op-ed that the money be considered this fall.

The prospect of a combined defense supplemental has support among influential lawmakers in the House.

“To me, that would be a good package,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) told reporters on Monday, mentioning border security as another possible component of the bill.

Yet the legislation would face intense opposition from conservatives who question America’s open-ended commitment to the war in Ukraine, a conflict that has roughly ground to a stalemate. The conservative Heritage Foundation urged lawmakers to reject joint funding on Monday, and Ukraine skeptics such as Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) suggested Ukraine money be diverted to Israel instead.

Opposition to Ukraine aid is still a minority view in Washington, even within a Republican Party that embraces former President Donald Trump’s “America First” foreign policy outlook. The GOP’s four-seat majority in the House, however, has complicated efforts to pass further aid. Both of the leading contenders to replace McCarthy as speaker have voiced skepticism as they court their conference’s right flank.

Resistance to Israel aid, by contrast, is limited to a small contingent of progressives in the Democratic Party.

Senate leadership has attempted to soften opposition with classified, all-member briefings on the conflict with Russia. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky even made a private appeal to senators in a swing through Washington three weeks ago.


With a new geopolitical conflict in the Middle East, leaders will attempt to draw parallels between Israel and Ukraine. In his op-ed, McConnell notes Iran’s alliance with Hamas and Moscow.

“Those blessed to live in the democratic West must understand that this barbarism, like that in Russia’s war against Ukraine, threatens all of us,” he said.