US House Foreign Affairs chairman see weeks before chamber considers Ukraine aid

By Thomson Reuters Feb 16, 2024 | 11:44 AM

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee said on Friday he does not expect the Republican-led chamber will consider President Joe Biden’s request for billions of dollars more aid for Ukraine before mid-March, after it passes broader spending bills.

“I don’t want to speak for the speaker, but I do think he wants to get through the appropriations process first- that takes us to March 8 – and then deal with the supplemental,” Republican Representative Michael McCaul told journalists at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.

The Senate, controlled by Biden’s fellow Democrats, passed a$95.34 billion military aid package for Ukraine, Israel and other allies shortly before dawn on Feb. 13, but Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson said the chamber would not rush to consider the Senate bill.

Backers of Ukraine from both parties urged Johnson to act quickly on further assistance for Ukraine as it battles a nearly two-year-long Russian invasion, citing Kyiv’s urgent need for ammunition and other materiel.

Lawmakers have been proposing ways to pass a bill, either by using procedural tools to sidestep Johnson or by writing new bills that might make the aid package more palatable to hardliners, who question sending money abroad at a time of steep U.S. deficits or demand that tighter controls on immigration via the border with Mexico be included.

A bipartisan group of House members introduced a bill on Thursday night including measures to secure the border and money for defense of Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, but not economic support for Kyiv.

McCaul said he had not read the bill closely but had concerns, including over its proposed changes in military funding. “I don’t think this is well thought out,” he said.

McCaul, like many other Republicans as well as Democrats, said the security assistance bill would pass the House if Johnson allowed a vote, despite opposition from a vocal group of lawmakers most closely allied to former President Donald Trump.

“There are some that I don’t think can be persuaded because the narrative is so strong,” McCaul said. “I think the brainwashing, if you will, that we have to choose between our southern border and Ukraine has been out there. I don’t agree with that. … I think we’re a great nation and we can do both.”

Besides saying pulling out of Ukraine risked emboldening U.S. adversaries, McCaul stressed that much of the money in the security aid bill would go to U.S. defense companies as the country’s military stocks are replenished.

Trump has criticized the Senate bill on social media by saying the foreign aid should take the form of a loan.

Congress last month passed a stopgap spending bill to fund the federal government only through early March, facing deadlines of March 1 and March 8 for completing action on spending for federal agencies or facing a government shutdown.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; editing by Jonathan Oatis)