In shift, Democrats de-link Ukraine aid from COVID-19 money
Democrats are moving to quickly pass nearly $40 billion in new Ukraine aid, which will not be linked to a stalled coronavirus package.
Democrats are proposing nearly $40 billion in new assistance, above the roughly $33 billion requested by the Biden administration. The extra funding from Congress would include an additional $3.4 billion for both military and humanitarian assistance in addition to the money requested by the White House, two sources confirmed to The Hill.
The proposal could be on the House floor as soon as Tuesday, one source told The Hill. Whether it could also pass the Senate by the end of the week depends on if all 100 senators could work out a time agreement and when the House sends over the legislation.
The Ukraine aid will not be attached to a $10 billion coronavirus assistance package, a source confirmed. That package has been stuck for weeks in the Senate because Republicans are demanding an amendment vote to prevent the administration from lifting a Trump-era border health policy.
Republicans signaled that they hadn’t yet signed off on the Democratic proposal. Democrats will need at least 10 GOP votes in the Senate if all 50 of their own members support a package that does not include coronavirus aid.
“No agreement has been reached and discussions are ongoing,” said a spokesperson for Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Democrats had eyed linking the two and the idea had support from both Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the White House. But Republicans had vowed to block the Ukraine package if the COVID-19 funds were attached.
“[Biden] has communicated to congressional leadership that he wants pass Ukraine aid first without Covid $ given opposition by senate GOP,” a congressional source said in a text.
The source added that the coronavirus aid would then be a separate bill and “both would originate in the House.”
Separating the coronavirus funds from the Ukraine package likely makes it easier for Congress to quickly pass the help for Kyiv. But it leaves the coronavirus money without a clear path forward.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and a group of Republicans had previously struck a deal for $10 billion in coronavirus assistance. But Republicans want to add language into the coronavirus bill that would prevent the administration from lifting Title 42, a Trump-era pandemic public health policy that allows for the rapid expulsion of migrants at the border and blocks them from seeking asylum.
Asked if separating the two would make it harder to pass coronavirus aid, Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, said it “doesn’t help”
“I think putting those two together would have been a powerful piece of legislation,” Durbin said.
A source familiar told The Hill that the coronavirus aid “is now on a separate track given it would slow the urgent Ukraine funds needed.”
In a statement later on Monday, President Biden said he would accept moving the two measures separately. Biden said that while he urged Congress to act on funding for COVID-19 treatments, the need for aid to Ukraine was too great to put off any further.
“We cannot afford delay in this vital war effort. Hence, I am prepared to accept that these two measures move separately, so that the Ukrainian aid bill can get to my desk right away,” Biden said.
Updated at 7 p.m.