The debate over aid to Ukraine was already complicated. Then it became entangled in US border security

(Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

The debate over aid to Ukraine was already complicated. Then it became entangled in US border security



November 26, 2023

As war and winter clash, a top adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky acknowledged during a recent visit to Washington that the coming days will be tough as his country battles Russia with US support from Congress on the line.



Biden’s nearly $106 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel and other needs lies dormant in Congress, neither approved nor rejected, but subject to new political demands from Republicans pushing for changes in U.S.-Mexico border policy to stem the flow of migrants to put a stop to it.

Tying Ukraine’s military aid to U.S. border security places one of the most divisive domestic political issues, immigration and border crossings, at the center of an intensifying wartime foreign policy debate.

When Congress returns from vacation next week, Biden’s request will be at the top of the to-do list, and the stakes couldn’t be higher. If this fails, US military aid to Kiev and Israel, along with humanitarian aid to Gaza, risks being delayed amid two wars, potentially undermining America’s global standing.

“It comes at a crucial time,” said Luke Coffey, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, which recently hosted Andriy Yermak, the Ukrainian president’s chief of staff, at the discussion in Washington.

“We’re running out of money,” Coffey said in an interview.

What a year ago was overwhelming support for Ukraine’s young democracy, which is seeking an alliance with the West to stop Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion, has turned into a new partisan battle in the United States.

Members of Congress overwhelmingly support Ukraine, embracing Zelensky as they did when he made a surprise visit to a hero’s welcome last December. But the continued supply of U.S. military and government aid is losing favor with a far-right wing of Republican lawmakers and some Americans.

Nearly half of the American public believes the country is spending too much on aid to Ukraine, according to polling by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Instead of approving Biden’s request, which includes $61 billion for Ukraine, Republicans are demanding something in return.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has said that the best way to ensure Republican Party support for Ukraine is for Biden and Democrats to accept changes in border policy that will limit the flow of migrants across the border with Mexico would limit.

It’s connected, he said in an interview with the Associated Press.

To that end, a core group of senators, Republicans and Democrats, have met privately to come up with a border policy solution that both parties could support, freeing up Republican Party votes for aid to Ukraine.

On the table are changes to asylum law, pushed by Republicans, that would make it harder for migrants to enter the United States even if they claim they are in danger and limit their parole pending a legal proceedings. Republicans also want to resume construction of the border wall.

Democrats are essentially calling these nonstarters, and border security discussions are moving slowly. Those who have worked on immigration-related issues for years see a political disaster in the making for all parties in Ukraine, including.

“I think it’s terrible that we were in this position,” said Senator Chris

Topher S.

Murphy (D-Conn.).

But you know, we were talking all night and all day today, he said recently, trying to find a way forward.

He added: “I’m not confident I’ll get there.”

Republicans, even defense hawks who strongly support Ukraine, insist the money must come with U.S. border provisions.

The reality is that if President Biden wants Ukraine aid approved, there will be substantial changes in border policy, said Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), often a McConnell ally on defense issues.

The White House has requested about $14 billion for border security in its broader package, with money for more Border Patrol agents, detention centers and judges to hear immigration cases. It also includes increased inspections to stem the flow of deadly fentanyl.

Biden and his national security team


recently with key senators from both parties. With Congress closely divided, Republicans holding a slim majority in the House of Representatives and Democrats holding a slim lead in the Senate, a bipartisan agreement will almost certainly be needed to move any legislation forward.

Pentagon funding for Ukraine is rapidly declining. The Defense Department has the authority to withdraw about $5 billion worth of equipment from its stockpiles and send it to Ukraine, but only has about $1 billion to replenish those supplies. So military leaders are concerned about the impact on the readiness and equipment of U.S. forces.

The need for funding is growing by the day, said Pentagon spokesperson Sabrina Singh.

A total of half of the $113 billion Congress has approved for Ukraine has gone to the Defense Department since the war began in February 2022, according to the Congressional Research Service. The dollars are being spent on building up Ukraine’s armed forces, largely by supplying U.S. military weapons and equipment and replenishing U.S. supplies.

Much of the rest goes to emergency and humanitarian aid and to support the government of Ukraine through the World Bank.

National security experts have seen Ukraine’s armed forces reuse outdated U.S. equipment that was about to be dismantled and use it to obliterate aspects of Russia’s armed forces. McConnell has noted that much of the spending remains in the U.S. and flows into defense production in states across the country.

Ukraine is at a critical point, said Democratic Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. The Russians are just counting on us to give up and walk away, and then they’ll walk in.

But even border security measures may not be enough to defeat Republicans, who are increasingly skeptical of Biden’s pledge to support Ukraine for as long as it takes to defeat Russia.

One Republican, Rep. Mike Garcia

of California from Santa Clarita

seeks to bridge the divide between Republicans by separating military funds from the money the US spends on the Kiev government, and pushing the Biden administration to be more open about presenting a strategy for the endgame of the war.

Garcia, who authored a 14-page report that new Speaker Mike Johnson delivered at a recent White House meeting, said that even with border security, Republicans will not approve the full amount for Ukraine that Biden has requested. If the Ukrainian budget is still $61 billion, that is not the right answer,” said Garcia, a former Navy fighter pilot who flew combat missions during the Iraq war.

Other Republicans, led by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, an ally of Donald Trump, have taken an even deeper line against aid to Ukraine.

Yermak, during his speech in Washington, was grateful for American support and blunt about the need for more.

I tell you the truth: this winter will be hard for us, he said, encouraging Americans to support Ukraine at this historic moment for all of us.

___ Associated Press writers Lolita C. Baldor, Ellen Knickmeyer and Stephen Groves contributed to this report.


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