By Patricia Zengerle and Andrea Shalal
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden asked Congress to approve about $40 billion in additional spending on Thursday, including $24 billion for Ukraine and other international needs, $4 billion related to border security and $12 billion for disaster relief.
A senior administration official said the needs were great, and the White House was hopeful an agreement could be reached with Congress on the request, which covers only the first quarter of the current 2024 fiscal year.
But the request could face opposition in Congress, where some far-right Republicans – especially those with close ties to former President Donald Trump – want to pare back the billions in assistance Washington has sent to Kyiv since Russian troops invaded in February 2022.
Trump, the front-runner in the race to be the Republican presidential nominee in 2024, has been sharply critical of U.S. support for Ukraine in the war. And 70 House members backed an unsuccessful proposal in July to cut funding for Ukraine.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said there was strong bipartisan support in the Democratic-led Senate for doing more to back Ukraine, help Americans affected by natural disasters and “fight the scourge of fentanyl.”
“The latest request from the Biden administration shows America’s continued commitment to helping Americans here at home and our friends abroad; and should send a clear signal to Vladimir Putin, the Chinese government, and others of America’s resolve when it comes to defending democracy around the world,” Schumer said in a statement backing Biden’s request.
The Senate’s Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, said in a statement he looked forward to reviewing the request “to make sure it is necessary and appropriate to keep America safe, secure our borders, support our allies, and help communities rebuild after disasters.”
McConnell has strongly supported assistance to Ukraine, saying that much of the money is spent in the United States and citing the importance of the “democratic world” unifying against aggression, whether from Russia or China.
Asked about criticism from Republicans in the House of Representatives that the request violated a budget deal reached in June, the official said it was clear when that deal was signed that it did not preclude requests for emergency funding.
“There’s work to do, but we are hopeful about our ability to come together,” the official said.
FIRST UKRAINE REQUEST SINCE REPUBLICANS TOOK HOUSE
Republicans narrowly control the House, where Speaker Kevin McCarthy signaled in June that any request for more assistance for Ukraine would face an uphill path through Congress.
A spokesperson for McCarthy said he would review Biden’s proposal. “A Republican-led House will not rubber-stamp any blank-check funding requests; rather, the Administration’s emergency funding requests must be reviewed and scrutinized on their merits consistent with the practice and principles of our majority,” the spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
The House and Senate last approved aid for the Kyiv government – $48 billion – in December, before Republicans took control of the House.
A second administration official said the United States was making good on its promise to stand by Ukraine in its fight against the Russian invasion that began in February 2022, and would not be bashful about asking for additional funds if needed.
The funding request also includes $3.3 billion to expand development and infrastructure lending by the World Bank to developing countries and provide a “credible alternative” to China’s “coercive and unsustainable lending and infrastructure projects,” Biden’s budget director, Shalanda Young, said in a letter to Congress.
The request includes $13.1 billion for the Department of Defense, including $9.5 billion for equipment for Ukraine and replenishment of U.S. equipment stocks already sent to Kyiv. It also includes $3.6 billion for continued military, intelligence and other defense support.
It seeks $8.5 billion for the Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development, including $7.3 billion for economic, humanitarian and security assistance for Ukraine and other affected countries and populations, $1 billion to strengthen strategic partnerships in developing countries and $200 million to strengthen African countries’ resistance to Russia’s Wagner Group, which Washington has designated a transnational criminal organization.
Wagner’s chief, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has welcomed a recent coup in Niger and said his forces were available to restore order.
Among other things, the package asks for $2.65 billion for the Department of Homeland Security, including $2.2 billion for border management operations, shelter and services for migrants released from DHS custody, and $416 million for counter-fentanyl activities.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal, Patricia Zengerle, David Shepardson and Doina Chiacu in WashingtonEditing by Doina Chiacu, Jonathan Oatis and Matthew Lewis)