As 2024 looms, Biden unveils $106 billion foreign aid package

As 2024 looms, Biden unveils $106 billion foreign aid package

Aiming to tame two raging international crises, President Biden on Friday unveiled a $106 billion aid package that could redefine his foreign policy legacy while reshaping the fault lines of U.S. politics ahead of the 2024 presidential election.

The foreign aid proposal, far larger than even many Democrats anticipated a few days ago, represents a direct challenge to isolationist voices in the Republican Party and some skeptics of U.S. military support for Israel on the left. It aims to pair $14 billion in aid for Israel with a full year’s worth of funding for Ukraine, roughly $61 billion, while also including roughly $14 billion for immigration priorities and $10 billion for humanitarian aid, as well as more funding to counter China’s influence in Asia and the developing world.

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With the request, the White House is aiming to overcome the piecemeal approach that Congress has taken toward funding the war in Ukraine and instead provide Kyiv with the aid it needs for a full year. The White House has defended this national security push as essential at a time of mounting geopolitical instability and necessary to demonstrate U.S. resolve against the nation’s adversaries in Moscow, Tehran and Beijing.

But the effort carries international and domestic risks. Allies of Donald Trump, the likely 2024 Republican presidential nominee, say that he may use it to amplify claims that Biden is not sufficiently focused on the United States at a time of extreme dissatisfaction with the economy. Many congressional Republicans have said they oppose efforts to link the Israel aid, which they support, to the Ukraine aid, which many of them do not. The request may also exacerbate divisions within the Democratic Party about whether Israel needs billions more in military support amid rising concerns on the left over the plight of the Palestinians under bombardment.

The package faces an uncertain fate in a House riven by an intractable battle over its next speaker. House Republicans have also grown increasingly critical of the administration’s approach to the war in Ukraine, although Kyiv has substantial bipartisan support in the Senate.

“This is a significant test of America’s resolve, and I think the Biden administration understands that,” said Sen. Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.), who has been a strong advocate for Ukraine funding. “In the broader scheme of things, this is a moment where the rest of the world is wondering how we’re going to show up, and I think it’s important for us to show up in a rational and thoughtful way that’s consistent with our values.”

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The White House will also submit to Congress a second package focused on domestic priorities such as child care and broadband funding. That will not be released this week.

The White House’s aid request for Ukraine, the biggest part of the funding package, aims to buttress Kyiv as it nears its second year of full-scale war with Russia. Under pressure from House Republicans, lawmakers agreed to strip Ukraine aid from the last bill to fund the government in September. But the White House said additional funding is desperately needed, primarily for resupplying Ukrainian front-line troops, funding Defense Department support for Kyiv and covering a massive budget deficit projected for the country’s government next year.

“If the U.S. stops providing aid, which we have right now, half of Ukraine’s flow of weapons and munitions supplies would cease,” said Mark Cancian, senior adviser with the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank. “If that stops, Ukraine will have to curtail their operations very substantially and stop the counteroffensive immediately. They will just try to hang on, because the Russians would gain a tremendous material advantage even if the Europeans kept supplying aid.”

Biden’s $14.3 billion request for Israel, meanwhile, is likely to get more backing from congressional Republicans, who have thus far mostly accused Biden of being insufficiently supportive of Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

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The Israel aid request is focused on providing military aid: $10.6 billion to provide air and missile defense support, while also replenishing Defense Department military stocks provided to Israel, as well as $3.7 billion to be provided to Israel through the State Department.

“This is the time to take decisive action to help Israel here in the Senate,” Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) told reporters earlier this week. “I fully believe that we can, and will, get this done, because American support is unwavering and unconditional.”

The request could shine a spotlight on the chaos consuming House Republicans, whose infighting has left the House without a speaker, preventing the lower chamber from conducting any legislative business. Republicans three times rejected their leading candidate for the speakership, Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, before deciding Friday that he should step aside. If elected, Jordan had pledged to put an aid request for Ukraine and Israel up for a vote, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.), chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee, said Monday night.

House Republicans have mostly been mum on how they would approach the president’s demand for emergency funding. Rank-and-file members from both parties have begun calling for the House to grant Rep. Patrick T. McHenry (R-N.C.), the speaker pro tempore, expanded powers to bring legislation to the floor in light of the deteriorating situation in Israel and Gaza.

Many Republicans in both chambers are saying they will oppose efforts to link Ukraine and Israel aid. The United States has already spent more than $60 billion on Ukraine, and an increasing number of GOP lawmakers — egged on by Trump — have begun demanding that European allies foot a much greater share of the bill, if not the rest of it. (The $60 billion represents roughly 8 percent of the U.S. annual military budget.)

“It is a mistake to in any way delay the Israel aid,” said Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.). On Ukraine aid, Hawley added, “It’s pretty clear the White House knows they’re not winning this debate in the country, so they’re asking for a giant number all at once.”

Also potentially controversial is aid that could help the Palestinians. Several members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus privately lobbied the administration to approve new humanitarian funds for refugees from Gaza, two people familiar with the matter said, and Biden separately announced that $100 million from an existing fund would be redirected to help Palestinians. The people spoke on the condition of anonymity to reflect a matter not yet made public.

An overwhelming majority of the party has backed Biden’s handling of the war, but a handful of House Democrats — including Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Mark Pocan of Wisconsin and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York — have called for an immediate cease-fire, raising the possibility some on the left will also buck Biden’s funding request. Israel is already the largest beneficiary of U.S. aid, having received approximately $150 billion in taxpayer assistance as of 2022, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service, a nonpartisan agency.

The White House funding request includes $9.5 billion for “humanitarian needs across Israel, Ukraine, Gaza,” and other countries, but Biden aides did not describe when asked how that money would be apportioned.

“We don’t need an endorsement of Israel’s bombing campaign while helping Palestinians survive a bombardment campaign that the U.S. is also supporting. We need an end to the bombing campaign,” said Omar Baddar, a member of the National Policy Council of the Arab-American Institute. “We need to start saying, ‘If we’re going to give you money, we need to hold you accountable for how you spend it.’”

Beyond the fight on Capitol Hill, Biden’s funding request could have major consequences for the 2024 presidential race. Stephen K. Bannon, Trump’s top political strategist in 2016, said Trump must use the foreign aid request — which Bannon called “a sellout of the American worker and the country” — to hammer Biden’s record.

“Trump’s argument will be that the world is on fire under Biden and rather than trying to solve the problem he has just tried signing checks,” said Saurabh Sharma, president of American Moment, a center-right think tank.

But in his Oval Office address on Thursday night, Biden defended the “unprecedented” aid request as essential for U.S. interests, pointing to the domestic risks of a failure to tame the international crisis.

“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,” Biden said. “And the cost and the threats to America and the world keep rising.”

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Jeff Stein, Jacob Bogage

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