President Joe Biden’s request for $33 billion in aid to Ukraine hit an early snag on Capitol Hill, where a dispute over immigration policy threatens to hamstring an otherwise urgent ask to assist Kyiv against Russia’s invasion.
The administration’s massive request to Congress, which includes more than $20 billion for military equipment like artillery and armored vehicles, is popular among Democrats and Republicans.
But Republicans are protesting a new effort by Democrats to link the $33 billion with a separate bipartisan compromise providing $10 billion in additional Covid relief funding.
Biden made the pairing explicit on Thursday in his formal request for Ukrainian aid to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
“To avoid needless deaths in the United States and around the world, I urge the Congress to include this much needed, life-saving COVID funding as part of this supplemental funding request,” he wrote.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, helped negotiate the Covid relief funding, but the rest of his party is blocking the bill.
As part of the debate over more Covid funds, most Senate Republicans insist on forcing a vote on the Biden administration’s controversial decision to end a pandemic-era policy called Title 42, which allowed border agents to turn away migrants at the southern border.
That’s not an attractive option for Democrats and the White House, which has acknowledged reversing Title 42 will likely lead to an increase in illegal border crossings.
Asked about binding the two priorities together, Pelosi told reporters on Friday that she’s “all for that.”
“I think it’s very important. We have emergencies here. We need to have the Covid money. And time is of the essence,” she said, referring to the ongoing war in Ukraine. “This is called legislating and we’ll have to come to terms on how we do that.”
Neither side of the political aisle is eager to see a delay in support to Ukraine, prompting key Republicans to challenge the Biden administration on its attempt to pair the two efforts.
An aide to Senate Minority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., told CNBC Friday morning that the senator would prefer to vote on aid to Kyiv on its own.
Representatives for Sen. Schumer did not reply to CNBC’s request for comment.
Despite the partisan feud, Washington policy strategist Tom Block believes Republicans and Democrats have little appetite for delaying Ukrainian aid.
Block told CNBC that he expects Democrats to abandon their attempt to pair the aid to Kyiv with the coronavirus relief given that Romney, key to the Covid deal, seems opposed to coupling the two legislative efforts.
“While the Democrats are talking about adding the Covid package to the Ukraine request I expect that to drop in the next week or so,” Block wrote Friday morning.
“I think the Ukraine deal will be approved by the Memorial Day break at the end of May and will pass with large bipartisan majorities,” he added.
Until then, Democrats may try to force the GOP into the politically treacherous position of voting against a bill designed to help Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Friday doubled down on the president’s request to pass the bills together.
“We have been working full steam ahead in engaging, having discussions with appropriate members, committees, staff, about the urgency in moving both of these requests forward,” Psaki said. “The president, of course, put them forward because that is his preference, for them to move together.”