WASHINGTON – Congressional Democrats and Republicans showed signs of support Tuesday for providing $6.4 billion or more in aid to Ukraine and its European neighbors as Russian forces intensified their attacks on Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities.
Lawmakers were hoping Congress could approve the assistance by the end of next week, possibly by adding it to a bipartisan, roughly $1.5 trillion bill financing federal agencies for the rest of this year.
Biden administration officials told congressional aides last week that their request includes $3.5 billion for the Defense Department and $2.9 billion for humanitarian assistance for the hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees fleeing to nearby countries. Some Democrats said that total could grow to $10 billion or more.
“There's broad support for the president and what he's doing now,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said of President Joe Biden 's handling of the crisis. “Our biggest complaint is, what took him so long?” he added, saying providing more support earlier “might have deterred heavy aggression in advance.”
McConnell complained that bargainers had “hit a snag.” He said Democrats wanted to carve the defense assistance for Ukraine from the military spending in the larger $1.5 trillion government-wide legislation, but add the humanitarian aid on top of that measure's domestic programs. “We're not going to do that. This is an emergency,” McConnell said.
But congressional support for helping Ukraine and financing government agencies is strong and bipartisan, and the problem seemed unlikely to cause serious problems. Some Democrats denied McConnell's description and said the extra defense and humanitarian spending for Ukraine would be treated the same.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., did not respond with specifics when asked about the dispute.
“We should be bipartisan on this issue. Nothing would make Putin happier than having Democrats and Republicans” divided, Schumer said. He said earlier congressional efforts to impose sanctions on Russia before it invaded Ukraine, backed by lawmakers from both parties, “would have torn the alliance apart,” a reference to widespread international opposition to Russia's attack.
Schumer said bargainers were working on “a bipartisan, robust aid package with both military and security needs" and that “very good discussions" were underway. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said his chamber could vote on the legislation next Tuesday. The Senate would follow.
With Russia's military superiority suggesting it might achieve a quick victory, several senators said they'd like Congress to approve the Ukraine aid this week. “It’s so fast moving that the sooner we can get assistance, the better,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. But she and others who attended briefings from administration officials said the briefers had not expressed an urgency that the aid be approved this week.
“There is very possibly a limited window in which you can get weapons” to the Ukrainians, said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn. But the need for humanitarian aid will be “ongoing,” Murphy said.
Others said that practically speaking, there was little chance of Congress approving the aid before next week.
“As soon as you can here is never as quick as you and I both think it should be,” said Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.