By Peter Baker
President Joe Biden called on congressional Republicans on Wednesday to put aside “petty, partisan, angry politics” and pass a multibillion-dollar aid package for Ukraine, warning that failure to do so could enable President Vladimir Putin of Russia to reclaim momentum in the war and even draw in American troops.
The president said that he was willing to make “significant compromises” on border security to satisfy Senate Republicans who have refused to support further Ukraine aid without a new crackdown on illegal immigration. But Biden complained that they have been unwilling to back off what he characterized as “extreme” demands.
Republicans have insisted that the immigration measures be attached to an emergency spending measure that was slated for a Senate vote Wednesday. A classified briefing for senators Tuesday devolved into a partisan shouting match, and prospects for bipartisan consensus seemed to fade, even though senators in both parties expressed support for Ukraine’s efforts to defend itself against Russia.
“This cannot wait,” Biden said in a televised statement at the White House. “Congress needs to pass supplemental funding for Ukraine before they break for the holiday recess. Simple as that. Frankly, I think it’s stunning that we’ve gotten to this point in the first place. Republicans in Congress are willing to give Putin the greatest gift he can hope for and abandon our global leadership.”
He faulted Republicans for holding the Ukraine aid hostage to the border fight. “Republicans think they can get everything they want without any bipartisan compromise,” Biden said. “That’s not the answer. That’s not the answer. And now they’re willing to literally kneecap Ukraine on the battlefield and endanger our national security in the process.”
He added: “I’m willing to make significant compromises on the border. We need to fix the broken border system. It is broken. And thus far I’ve gotten no response.”
Republicans have accused Biden and the Democrats of trying to steamroll them on immigration by using the Ukraine aid as justification. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., got into a testy exchange with Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the majority leader, during Tuesday’s meeting, and he later sent a fundraising email to supporters declaring he would not back down.
“I will continue holding Schumer, and the rest of the Democrats, to account for their lies, incompetence, and unwillingness to secure our border,” he wrote, saying that it was “important that we stay on offense.”
The Biden administration has already told Congress that money for Ukraine would run out by the end of the year, leaving the embattled former Soviet republic vulnerable to a new Russian offensive, although some Pentagon officials privately have said they could stretch the money out through the winter. The White House has asked for an additional $61 billion in aid as part of a $110 billion emergency spending package to be voted Wednesday.
The Senate was supposed to be the easier place for the White House to win support since Republicans led by Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky by and large back U.S. aid for Ukraine, as opposed to many of their House Republican counterparts. The White House had hoped a strong bipartisan vote in the Senate would pressure the newly installed House speaker, Mike Johnson, who has lately expressed support for Ukraine but previously voted against aid.
Biden made his remarks Wednesday shortly after a video call with other leaders of the Group of 7 major industrial powers and framed the issue as a matter of American credibility and leadership on the world stage.
Without more aid for Ukraine, he warned, other allies may back off their own commitments. “If we walk away, how many of our European friends are going to continue to fund, and at what rates are they going to continue to fund?” he asked.
The president even raised the prospect that an emboldened Putin would pose a threat to NATO allies, requiring the United States to come to their assistance with troops on the ground. “If Putin takes Ukraine, he won’t stop there,” Biden said. “It’s important to see the long run here. He’s going to keep going. He’s made their pretty clear.
“If he keeps going, and then he attacks a NATO ally” to which the United States is bound by treaty to help, “then we’ll have something that we don’t seek and that we don’t have today — American troops fighting Russian troops,” Biden said.
“Make no mistake,” he added. “Today’s vote is going to be long remembered, and history’s going to judge harshly those who turn their back on freedom’s cause. We can’t let Putin win. I’ll say it again: We can’t let Putin win.”