Inside Biden’s request to Congress for Israel funding

As the Biden administration moves swiftly to respond to the violence in Israel over the weekend, one question remains largely unclear: What will it ask from Congress in terms of aid?

After an all-House briefing with administration officials Wednesday, lawmakers walked out with a few different reads on what the White House plans to include in the supplemental request expected as early as next week.

One Hill aide said the “White House will be requesting Israel, Ukraine, Taiwan and migration [border] funding in one package.” And a lawmaker in the room said it was brought up but not discussed in detail. Both people were granted anonymity to speak about the closed-door discussion.

But others left Wednesday’s briefing with Victoria Nuland, acting deputy secretary of State, Sasha Baker, acting under secretary of Defense for policy, and senior U.S. intelligence official Morgan Muir under the impression that the White House was not offering a definitive suggestion. As interpreted by another Hill office: it was a means for floating the option of including all four and gauging the response.

They did get at least one reaction to the idea, according to the lawmaker. A reference to tying the four issues together “elicited boos from Republicans.”

The murmurs — and widespread confusion — about the next steps come just a day after President Joe Biden said his team would ask Congress to fund “national security requirements” not only in Israel but for “our critical partners.” His national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, on Tuesday also said the Office of Management and Budget was drafting the supplemental request.

“What exact form that all takes, that will be worked out,” Sullivan said.

During Wednesday’s briefing on Capitol Hill, administration officials didn’t offer a topline number or any specifics.

“We are talking with Congress about the best path forward,” one administration official said. “No decision has been made.”

But soon, one will have to be.

At an event Wednesday afternoon with Jewish community leaders, Biden spoke about the numerous ways in which the U.S. was extending support: surging additional military assistance to the Israel Defense Forces, sending a carrier fleet and fighter jets to the eastern Mediterranean Sea, and shipping over supplies to replenish Israel’s Iron Dome. Biden also made clear to Iranians they should be, in his words, “careful.”

At times visibly emotional and admittedly hoarse from talking on the phone, Biden also noted the sheer complications that have presented themselves in the past few days. He said he found the reaction in certain quarters (primarily academia) to blame Israel “unconscionable.” And he noted the efforts underway for hostage rescue.

“If I told you, I wouldn’t be able to get them home,” he said. “Folks, there is a lot we are doing, a lot. I have not given up hope of bringing these folks home. But the idea that I’m going to stand here before you and tell you what I’m doing is bizarre.”

There was no explicit ask for Congress to move swiftly. Rather, the event was cloaked in sobriety and seriousness that underscored the expectation that lawmakers would step up with funding. Whether it will be just for Israel or for Ukraine and, perhaps, Taiwan too is less clear.

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