Biden Vows Fix After US Drops Ukraine Aid to Avert Shutdown

President Joe Biden urged House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to follow up quickly with funding for Ukraine hours after Congress passed a spending bill without it to avoid a US government shutdown.

(Bloomberg) — President Joe Biden urged House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to follow up quickly with funding for Ukraine hours after Congress passed a spending bill without it to avoid a US government shutdown.

The omission comes at a critical stage for Kyiv as it steps up efforts to repel Russia’s invasion and shows how domestic political debate in Washington is starting to affect support for Ukraine. Less than two weeks ago, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy visited Washington to plead for new weapons systems and urged allies to keep up their financial and military support for Kyiv.

“I fully expect the speaker to keep his commitment to secure passage and support needed to help Ukraine as they defend themselves against aggression and brutality,” Biden said Sunday at the White House. “There’s an overwhelming number of Republicans and Democrats in both the House and the Senate who support Ukraine. Let’s vote on it.”

On Saturday, Congress passed a bipartisan measure that would keep the US government funded until Nov. 17 with $16 billion in disaster funding. However, the lack of $6 billion in Ukraine aid is a blow to Biden. 

Asked what he would say to Zelenskiy and other allies of Ukraine, Biden said, “I can reassure them. Look at me: We are going to get it done.”

But fresh assistance isn’t certain and becoming more difficult to achieve particularly as issues like US border security come to the forefront. 

Kyiv has ramped up missile and drone attacks on Russian-occupied Crimea, targeting bases and supply lines as its four-month old counteroffensive makes halting progress on the ground ahead of winter. 

Backing for Ukraine from the EU is also facing a fresh challenge after a candidate sympathetic to Russia won Slovakia’s election on Saturday. Robert Fico has criticized EU sanctions against Russia and pledged to end military aid to Ukraine. 

The concern for Kyiv is that opponents of aid in the US and Europe may feed off each other’s momentum after their successes over the weekend. 

Read more: Ukraine Steps Up Strikes on Crimea as Offensive Grinds On

Zelenskiy’s office did not immediately respond when contacted for comment late Sunday. But Ukrainian officials broadly downplayed the situation in remarks on social media, saying they were working with US counterparts to secure fresh financial aid. 

The situation won’t impact aid which was announced earlier, Ukrainian foreign ministry spokesperson Oleh Nikolenko wrote on Facebook. “Support for Ukraine remains unwaveringly strong – in the US administration, in both parties, in US Congress, and most importantly, among the American people.”

Josep Borrell, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, called the omission of aid for Ukraine “a decision that we have to regret.”

Yet Biden’s calls for Congress to provide funding separately offer “hope that this will not be a definitive decision and Ukraine will continue having the support of the US,” Borrell said at a news conference in Kyiv.

Senate leaders have said they would begin work to approve aid. 

“In the coming weeks, we expect the Senate will work to ensure the US government continues to provide critical and sustained security and economic support for Ukraine,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a joint statement Saturday with Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell.

But McCarthy wants to link aid for Ukraine to Republican proposals for security at the US border that are opposed by Democrats, saying the border is “the priority for me” and the two policies should be dealt with jointly.

Earlier: Congress Averts US Government Shutdown Hours Before Deadline

“I support being able to make sure that Ukraine has the weapons that they need, but I firmly support the border first,” McCarthy said on CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday. “So we’ve got to find a way we can do this together.”

Ukraine is “not going to get some big package if the border is not secure” and the White House should be aware of that, he said, citing a House-passed border bill that hasn’t become law.

The bipartisan deal on short-term government funding avoided a shutdown that threatened to hit the US economy.

A funding breach would have halted many federal functions and paychecks, while economists predicted a longer shutdown could impede the Federal Reserve’s efforts to counter inflation without widespread job losses. Markets were on alert to any actions from credit-rating firms just months after Fitch Ratings stripped the US of its top-tier rating, citing persistent concerns about US governance.

–With assistance from Daryna Krasnolutska.

(Adds context in paragraph 2, Ukrainian officials from 7)

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