Biden to push Israel, Ukraine aid package well over $2 billion this week

By Katharine Jackson and Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Sunday that the Biden administration hopes to push a new weapons package for Israel and Ukraine through Congress that will be significantly higher than $2 billion.

Sullivan, in an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” said U.S. President Joe Biden will have intensive talks with the U.S. Congress this week on the need for the package to be approved.

Republicans’ struggles to pick a speaker for the House of Representatives after party hardliners ousted Kevin McCarthy nearly two weeks ago has delayed action on legislation, as Israel prepares a ground war against Hamas in Gaza and U.S. officials warn the regional crisis could escalate.

Biden has been considering a budget request lumping together aid for Israel, Ukraine and possibly Taiwan and the U.S. southern border to improve the chances of getting it approved amid calls from some Republicans to cut money for Kyiv.

Asked whether the request would be for $2 billion, as has been previously reported, Sullivan said: “The number is going to be significantly higher than that, but it will, as I said, certainly include the necessary military equipment to defend freedom, sovereignty and territorial integrity in Ukraine, and to help Israel defend itself as it fights its terrorist threat.”

Some Republicans have already said they would not back any Israel aid package that also contains aid for Ukraine.

How any bill moves through Congress without a House speaker is unclear. House minority leader Hakeem Jeffries suggested on Sunday that Democrats could work with Republicans to nominate a speaker.

“There are informal conversations that have been underway,” about a bipartisan solution to the crisis, Jeffries told NBC’s Meet the Press. “When we get back to Washington tomorrow, it’s important to begin to formalize those discussions.”

Ohio Representative Jim Jordan, founder of a hardline Republican party caucus with the backing of former President and likely 2024 nominee Donald Trump, has been nominated to be House Speaker.

It is unclear he has the votes necessary from his own party to get a simple majority in the House, which is narrowly controlled by Republicans. There is little chance any Democrats would back Jordan, a vocal supporter of Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was marred by widespread fraud.

“I believe at the end of the day that Jordan can get there and I’m doing everything I can to help him be able to become speaker,” McCarthy told Fox News Sunday morning.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, speaking in Tel Aviv on Sunday, said the Senate could move first to pass an aid bill.

“We’re not waiting for the House. We believe if the Senate acts in a strong bipartisan way, it may indeed improve the chances that the House, even with its current dysfunction, will act.”

(Reporting by Steve Holland, Katharine Jackson and Nandita Bose; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Heather Timmons)