U.S. President Joe Biden made the case directly to the American people Thursday that the country has a “vital” national security obligation to help Israel and Ukraine, which will require billions of dollars of military aid.
In a rare primetime televised address from the Oval Office — the second of his presidency — Biden said he will ask Congress to approve an “urgent budget request” to support America’s “critical partners,“ including Israel and Ukraine, that the White House has said would be around US$100 billion.
Grouping the aid for Israel and Ukraine together underscored the multiple national and international security challenges the United States is currently facing, which Biden said require an American response.
“American leadership is what holds the world together,” he said. “American alliances will keep us, America, safe. American values are what make us a partner that other nations want to work with.
“To put all that at risk — if we walk away from Ukraine, if we turn our backs on Israel — it’s just not worth it.”
Biden explicitly tied the experiences of Israelis and Ukrainians together and said Hamas, which the U.S. and Canada list as a terrorist entity, and Russian President Vladimir Putin have similar goals.
“Hamas and Putin represent different threats, but they share this in common: they both want to completely annihilate in neighbouring democracy,” he continued.
“History has taught us that when terrorists don’t pay a price for their terror, when dictators don’t pay a price for their aggression, they cause more chaos and death and more destruction.”
The speech comes the day after Biden’s high-stakes trip to Israel where he showed solidarity with the country, which has declared war on Hamas, and pushed for more humanitarian assistance to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
The White House said Biden also called Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Thursday ahead of the speech to assure him of continued U.S. support for the country as its fight against Russia’s invasion approaches the two-year mark.
In addition to Israel and Ukraine, the aid package is also expected to include funding for Taiwan to defend itself from a potential incursion from China, as well as to improve security at the southern border with Mexico, according to White House officials who spoke to the Associated Press, Reuters and other U.S. media outlets on the condition of anonymity.
The Associated Press reported the package contains US$60 billion for Ukraine, US$14 billion for Israel, US$10 billion for humanitarian efforts, US$14 billion for managing the U.S.-Mexico border and fighting fentanyl trafficking and US$7 billion for the Indo-Pacific region, which includes Taiwan. The proposal was described by three people familiar with the details who insisted on anonymity before the official announcement.
The funding request is one of the largest defence packages sought by a modern president. Biden is hoping enough Republicans and Democrats will support the various initiatives it contains that they will quickly send the package to his desk to be signed into law.
But major challenges stand in the way. The U.S. House of Representatives appeared no closer Thursday to electing a new speaker to replace Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy more than two weeks after he was ousted. A speaker is needed to bring legislation up for votes, including spending bills needed to prevent a government shutdown next month.
A growing number of Republicans, including those who led the charge to remove McCarthy, are vocally opposed to further aid for Ukraine, citing both the uncertainty of a victory for Kyiv and an urgency to address concerns at the southern border. An earlier ask for US$24 billion in additional military aid for Ukraine was removed from budget negotiations last month, despite an in-person plea from Zelenskyy to lawmakers in Washington, D.C.
Biden made clear in his speech Thursday that weapons sent to Ukraine come from U.S. stockpiles that are replenished by American-made weapons and equipment paid for by the money approved by Congress.
The White House has previously been resistant to tie Ukraine aid to border security, pointing to a drop in illegal migrant crossings after new asylum restrictions were introduced in May. But those crossings have shot back up since then, topping a daily average of more than 8,000 last month, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection figures.
More bipartisan support exists for Israel as it bombards the Gaza Strip with airstrikes in response to Hamas’ brutal attack on Oct. 7. Biden has already pledged to provide U.S. aid to Israel as it prepares for a potential ground offensive into Gaza.
But some progressive Democrats — including Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the only Palestinian-American in Congress — have accused Israel of indiscriminately killing civilians and committing war crimes by cutting off essential supplies like food, water and fuel. Israeli officials say they try to target Hamas but that the group embeds itself among civilians.
Tlaib and other progressives like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar have long criticized Israel’s decades-long occupation of Gaza and the West Bank.
Josh Paul, a State Department official who oversaw the congressional liaison office dealing with foreign arms sales, resigned from his position this week over U.S. policy on weapons transfers to Israel.
Lawmakers appear to be most unified over the threat China poses to Taiwan, however. Beijing has publicly remarked it could soon seek to forcefully retake the self-ruling island, which China views as its territory despite having a democratically-elected government.
That potential attack has been frequently cited by Biden and other officials when making the case for helping Ukraine beat back Russia’s aggression, arguing that allowing Moscow to take over Ukraine would give “permission” to Beijing to do the same to Taiwan.
Biden has delivered only one other such speech during his presidency, after Congress passed bipartisan budget legislation to avert a default on the country’s debt.
The White House and other senior administration officials, including Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young, have quietly briefed key lawmakers in recent days about the contours of the planned supplemental funding request, the Associated Press reported.
The Democrat-led Senate plans to move quickly on Biden’s request, hoping that it creates pressure on the Republican-controlled House to resolve its leadership drama and return to legislating.
—with files from the Associated Press