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Biden's $33 billion Ukraine aid request faces an early snag on COVID funding in Congress

Biden’s $33 billion Ukraine aid request faces an early snag on COVID funding in Congress

U.S. Senator John Thune (R-SD) speaks after a Republican luncheon in the Senate on Capitol Hill in Washington, November 10, 2020.

Erin Scott | Reuters

president Joe Biden A request for $33 billion in aid for Ukraine ran into an early snag on Capitol Hill, as a dispute over immigration policy threatens to derail an urgent request to help Kyiv against a Russian invasion.

The The administration’s massive request to CongressWhich includes more than $20 billion for military equipment such as artillery and armored vehicles, is popular with Democrats and Republicans.

But Republicans are protesting against a new effort by Democrats to tie $33 billion to a separate bipartisan compromise that would save $10 billion in additional Covid relief funding.

Biden explained the pairing Thursday in his formal request for Ukrainian assistance to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California.

“To avoid unnecessary deaths in the United States and around the world, I urge Congress to include this critically necessary and life-saving funding for COVID as part of this supplemental funding request,” he wrote.

Senator Mitt RomneyR-Utah, R-Utah, helped negotiate Covid relief funding, but the rest of his party is blocking the bill.

As part of the debate over more Covid money, most Senate Republicans insist on forcing a vote on the controversial Biden administration The decision to end a pandemic-era policy called Title 42which allowed border officials to turn away migrants at the southern border.

That’s not an attractive option for Democrats and the White House, which has conceded that reversing Title 42 would likely lead to an increase in illegal border crossings.

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Asked about linking the two priorities together, Pelosi told reporters on Friday that she was “all for that.”

“I think it’s very important. We have emergencies here. We need Covid money. Time is of the essence,” she said, referring to the war in Ukraine. “This is called legislation and we have to come up with terms on how to do that.”

Neither side of the political corridor is excited to see a delay in support for Ukraine, which has led major Republicans to challenge the Biden administration in its attempt to match the two efforts.

A Senate Whip minority aide John Thune, RS.D, told CNBC Friday morning that the senator would prefer a vote to help Kyiv on his own.

Representatives for Senator Schumer did not respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

CNBC Politics

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Despite the partisan feud, Washington policy strategist Tom Block believes Republicans and Democrats have little appetite for delaying Ukraine aid.

Block told CNBC that he expects Democrats to abandon their attempt to pair aid to Kyiv with coronavirus relief since Romney, key to the Covid deal, appears to be opposed to pairing legislative efforts.

“While Democrats talk about adding the Covid package to Ukraine’s demand, I expect that to drop next week or so,” Block wrote Friday morning.

“I think the Ukraine deal will be approved by the Memorial Day holiday at the end of May and will pass a large bipartisan majority,” he added.

Until then, Democrats may try to force the Republican Party into a politically disloyal stance by voting against a bill designed to help Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

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White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Friday doubled down on the president’s request to pass the bills together.

“We have worked with full force to engage and hold discussions with appropriate members, committees and staff on the urgency of moving forward with these two requests,” Psaki said. “The chief, of course, brought them up because that’s the favourite, they have to move in together.”