President Joe Biden dispatched two of his top Cabinet officials to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to make the case that lawmakers in the divided Congress must act quickly on his $106 billion emergency funding request for Ukraine and Israel.
But as the two officials testified, they were repeatedly interrupted by protesters calling for a cease-fire in Gaza amid Israel's war with Hamas.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin testified Tuesday before the Senate Appropriations Committee about the sweeping request, which also includes humanitarian aid in Israel, Ukraine and the Gaza Strip, as well as funding to secure the U.S.-Mexico border and assist Indo-Pacific allies, including Taiwan, as a counter to China’s growing influence in the region.
In his remarks, Blinken sought to counter efforts from some Republicans in the Senate and House, including new Speaker Mike Johnson, to try and decouple the aid for the two countries.
"The elements of this request work together as a package," Blinken told the panel. "This is all one fight. And we have to respond in a way that recognizes that."
At Tuesday's hearing, Washington Sen. Patty Murray and Maine Sen. Susan Collins, the top Democrat and Republican on the panel, said they are currently drafting a bill that includes aid for both countries.
Collins warned that there would be "dire consequences" for U.S. national security if lawmakers do not act to aid Israel and Ukraine and hamper Hamas and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"We must recognize that our national security interests are being aggressively challenged by all these authoritarian actors," Collins said. "If we fail to thwart these efforts, there will be dire consequences that will jeopardize our national security."
"The actions of Hamas are nothing less than evil, and we must stand by our friend Israel, the only true democracy in the Middle East," she said. "Like Israel, Ukraine was the victim of an unprovoked attack by a repeat violent offender. The United States, albeit slower than many of us would have liked, stepped in with assistance for Ukraine to help repel Russia's battlefield advances."
Since the U.S. has aided Ukraine, Collins noted, "no U.S. soldiers have lost their lives fighting in Ukraine, our adversary Russia is weaker, NATO is stronger than ever, Finland has joined the alliance and I assume that Sweden will do the same soon. Each of these outcomes is in America's interests."
She also noted that the bill "includes more than $30 billion to replenish our military's weapon stockpiles and invest in and strengthen the U.S. defense industrial base in many states ... none of this funding goes overseas or to another country, it makes America stronger by modernizing our arsenal of democracy right here in our country and improving the readiness of the U.S. military to deter any adversaries seeking to harm the United States."
Blinken said that the United States is "not shrinking back, not in the face of Russia's aggression against Ukraine, not in the face of intensifying strategic competition in the Indo-Pacific and around the world, not in the face of terrorism and its state sponsors."
"America does not stand alone," he continued. "We built extraordinary coalition's with friends who carry their share of the burden ... our adversaries and competitors alike recognize that our strategies are working and they continue to do everything they can to disrupt us. We now stand at a moment where many are, again, making the bet that we're too divided, too distracted at home to stay the course.
"That's what's at stake" with Biden's sweeping security request, Blinken added. "The president's request would secure the urgent resources that we need to continue to lead."
Austin made the case that Putin will succeed in Ukraine if the U.S. does not continue supporting the country's efforts to repel Russia's invasion.
"The cost and the threats to the United States will only grow" if the U.S. fails to lead the way, Austin said. "We must not give our friends, our rivals, or our foes any reason to doubt America’s resolve."
Both officials were interrupted several times by protesters calling for a cease-fire in Gaza, who were subsequently removed from the room for disrupting the proceedings. Blinken made reference to the demonstrations in his remarks Tuesday.
"I also hear very much the passions expressed in this room and outside this room," the country's top diplomat said. "All of us are committed to the protection of civilian life. All of us know the suffering that is taking place we speak. All of us are determined to see it end."
But when asked about a cease-fire directly, Blinken said that such an act "would simply consolidate what Hamas has been able to do and allow it to remain where it is and potentially repeat what they did."
While the Senate will likely be somewhat receptive to the officials' request, the House is a different story.
The GOP-controlled lower chamber, led by the newly minted Speaker Johnson, R-La., released a standalone bill Monday that would provide more than $14 billion in aid to Israel, but is paid for by rescinding IRS enforcement funding from the Inflation Reduction Act — President Biden’s sweeping health care, climate change and tax reform bill — making it a nonstarter for Democrats in both the House and Senate.
“We're gonna move a standalone Israel funding bill this week in the House,” Johnson said in a Fox News interview over the weekend. “There are lots of things going on around the world that we have to address and we will, but right now, what's happening in Israel takes the immediate attention and I think we've got to separate that and get it through.”
While Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has repeatedly backed the prospect of one bill to aid both countries, some members of his own conference, like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, have apparently agreed with Johnson’s desire to “bifurcate” the issues of Israel and Ukraine aid, proposing their own version of a standalone aid package to the Middle Eastern country in its war against Hamas.
"At the risk of repeating myself, the threats facing America and our allies are serious and they're intertwined," McConnell said on the Senate floor on Tuesday. "f we ignore that fact, we do so at our own peril."
But, McConnell said Tuesday, while he and Schumer are "conceptually" on the same page about an aid package linking the international aid, Democrats "are going to have to accept" strict border security provisions "to get our people on board."
The difference of opinion between the chambers of Congress — and even between members of the same party — could signal a rough road ahead for any aid package, even as advocates say the bill is essential for national security.
"America does not have the luxury of burying our heads in the sand or leaving our friends to fend for themselves," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Monday. "If we want the world to remain a safe place for freedom, for democratic principles, and for America’s prosperity, we must defend against those who are working hard to undermine us."
Despite growing questions about the Ukraine aid within the Republican conference, McConnell has forcefully advocated tying the aid for Ukraine and Israel together. He hosted Oksana Markarova, the Ukrainian ambassador to the United States, at an event in Kentucky on Monday and told the audience, “this is a moment for swift and decisive action.”
Markarova said at the event that “this is the time to double down” and that failing to aid Ukraine’s war would embolden Putin and endanger the world.
“If we will not fight for democracy, then who will fight for democracy?” Markarova asked.
As they returned to Washington on Monday night, Senate Republicans who support the Ukraine aid were uncertain of the path forward. Further complicating the package, several of them have been negotiating a package of border security measures that would go beyond Biden’s request, an attempt to help control the influx of migrants, include more money for the United States in the spending bill and perhaps convince more Republicans to vote for it.
Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Senate Republican, said it could complicate Democrats’ efforts to pass the two together if there were a bipartisan vote for the Israel aid alone in the House.
Thune reiterated his support for tying aid for the two countries together but said he is “open to suggestions.”
Republican Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa said she wants to see Ukraine aid passed, and “I don’t care how it happens.” She said she is open to the spending cuts that Republicans proposed for the Israel funding in the House.
The House could pass the Israel aid by the end of the week. In an interview on Fox News on Monday, Johnson said he would call Schumer to talk about the House bill. He said the legislation would be offset by the IRS funding because “we’re not just going to print money and send it overseas, because the other concern we have that is overriding is our own strength as a nation, which is tied to our fiscal stability.”
The top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, New York Rep. Richard Neal, and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., both immediately rebuked the cuts for the IRS.
“Hamas depends on sham charities and other illicit finance schemes to fund its operations, but this proposal would cut resources to IRS criminal investigators who are actively helping American allies stop terrorist financing and sanctions evaders,” Wyden said.
In a statement, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre called the House proposal a “nonstarter.”
"Demanding offsets for meeting core national security needs of the United States—like supporting Israel and defending Ukraine from atrocities and Russian imperialism—would be a break with the normal, bipartisan process and could have devastating implications for our safety and alliances in the years ahead," she said, adding: "Threatening to undermine American national security unless House Republicans can help the wealthy and big corporations cheat on their taxes—which would increase the deficit—is the definition of backwards."
"Playing political games that threaten the source of funding for Israel’s self-defense—now and into the future—would set an unacceptable precedent that calls our commitment to one of our closest allies into question," Jean-Pierre said. "We cannot afford to jeopardize that commitment as Israel defends itself from the evil unleashed by Hamas."
The fight over the path for Israel and Ukraine aid has even spilled over into the 2024 Republican presidential primary. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie slammed former President Donald Trump for wanting to split the aid bills up, accusing him of wanting to "coddle" Putin.
"This is Donald Trump’s bad worldview," Christie told CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday.
"he wants to do it and separates them because he wants to continue to coddle Putin, as he's done from the minute he became President of the United States and then going forward from there," Christie said. "This aid is connected, because these attacks are connected.
"There's no doubt that Russia, China, and Iran, and North Korea are all working together to try to disrupt the world and create violence," he added. "We need to support Israel, and support them strongly, and we need to support our friends in Ukraine as well."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.