GOP raises red flag over linking Ukraine, coronavirus aid

Senate Republicans are sending a warning shot over the Biden administration’s forthcoming request for additional Ukraine aid. 

Despite bipartisan support for new assistance, Senate Republicans say they will block it if Democrats tie it to coronavirus relief that has been stalled over an entrenched fight over a Trump-era border pandemic policy.  

Democrats haven’t said if they will link the Ukraine assistance to the coronavirus aid, but they are trying to figure out a path forward for the COVID-19 relief after Republicans blocked it.  

The GOP had objected to Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) refusing to give them a vote on keeping Title 42, a Trump-era public health policy the Biden administration plans to lift on May 23. Crafted in the early days of the pandemic, it allows rapid expulsion of migrants in the name of public health and prevents them from seeking asylum.

With the border standoff unresolved, Republicans are warning Democrats to keep new Ukraine aid separate from coronavirus aid.

“I hope the Democrats will separate those two. I don’t think they ought to try and conflate the COVID money and the … Ukraine money,” said Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Republican senator. 

“In order to get the 60 votes they need, I think the strategy for the Democrats should be to split them. … If they want to get 10 Republicans, the best way to do that is to separate them,” Thune added about the Ukraine aid.  

Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), the No. 4 Senate Republican, said that Republicans wouldn’t help pass Ukraine aid if the coronavirus money was tied to it without a resolution on Title 42. Republicans view the border rule and the pandemic as related because there’s a broader public health emergency still in place over COVID-19.  

“I don’t think until this Title 42 issue is resolved anything is going to go on with COVID,” Blunt said.  

Assistance for Ukraine has garnered broad bipartisan support in the Senate, which previously passed $13.6 billion in aid as part of a sweeping government funding bill. A bill that ended permanent normal trade relations with Russia and a separate proposal to codify the administration’s Russian oil import ban also passed the Senate unanimously.  

Democrats are vowing to quickly move the administration’s new request, which is expected this week.  

“Once the president makes his request to Congress, approving additional aid for Ukraine will be a must. I expect both sides to work with swift, bipartisan cooperation to get it done,” Schumer said. 

Because the Ukraine aid has bipartisan support and is seen as must-pass legislation, it could be an attractive vehicle for coronavirus relief that Democrats also view as vital.  

Schumer, on Tuesday, sidestepped saying if he would link the two, instead urging Republicans to support new coronavirus assistance.  

“I would urge our Republican colleagues to pass COVID relief,” he said.  

Schumer and a group of Republicans previously struck a deal to provide $10 billion in coronavirus assistance. Schumer vowed at the time that he would try to attach to additional Ukraine aid a separate bill containing $5 billion in assistance that would go toward bolstering vaccination rates globally.  

But Republicans are warning that coronavirus relief — regardless of whether it is for global vaccinations or vaccines and therapeutics within the United States — would get snagged by the Title 42 fight. That means if Democrats linked the COVID-19 aid to Ukraine assistance, help for Kyiv would also get snagged.  

A federal court on Monday put out a temporary order blocking the administration from lifting Title 42. And the Department of Homeland Security is separately trying to share more information on its plans for how to address migrants at the border once the Trump-era policy is lifted.  

None of that has broken the stalemate on the coronavirus relief.  

Republicans want a vote on a proposal from Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) that would prevent the administration from lifting Title 42 as long as there’s a broader public health emergency in place related to COVID-19.  

Republicans believe they could get the proposal attached to coronavirus aid by a simple majority — instead of a 60-vote hurdle. That would require them to only win over one Democratic senator. Five, so far, support the proposal, and senators in both parties privately acknowledge that there could be more Democrats who would support it if it was allowed to come up for a vote.  

Republicans shrugged off concerns that Schumer could force a vote on a combined Ukraine-coronavirus package, even if it was clear it would fail, to make Republicans go on the record in an election year voting against something as bipartisan as supporting Ukraine.  

“He might. I wonder who really looks bad at the end of that, the guy who intentionally put something on the floor that would fail?” Blunt said.  

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Schumer’s No. 2, told reporters that no final decision had been made on whether to link coronavirus assistance to Ukraine aid.  

“It depends on if you could get some crossover support from one to either. … We don’t want to bog down either package,” Durbin said.  

Some Democratic senators floated linking them, arguing that it would help ensure both Ukraine aid and coronavirus relief passes. But they also acknowledged the decision is up to Schumer, who could want to keep them separate.  

“Schumer would have to say, ‘Hmm, do we want to pair it but then have a Title 42 vote?’ ” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.). “Or would we rather do the Ukraine and then not have to face Title 42?”

Tags Chuck Schumer John Thune Roy Blunt

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