The White House and lawmakers weigh linking Ukraine and Israel aid

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration and key lawmakers in Congress are actively discussing whether aid to Israel could be linked to more funding for Ukraine as a strategy to pass both spending priorities, according to an administration official and two pro-Ukraine Republican lawmakers.

Lawmakers in both parties who support additional aid for Ukraine have suggested the approach as a potential way to secure funding for Kyiv despite opposition from some Republican members in the House and the Senate.

A group of House conservatives has steadfastly opposed new funding for Ukraine, which the White House has requested, and the issue is sure to be a factor in the GOP conference’s high-stakes leadership elections this week. Additional aid for Israel in the wake of Hamas’ brutal attack on Israelis is seen as less likely to face such a struggle in Congress.

The White House is quietly evaluating the political viability of linking aid for Ukraine and Israel, the administration official said, while acknowledging that ultimately the decision will be up to Congress.

The National Security Council’s coordinator for strategic communications, Adm. John Kirby, said Monday, “Both are important, and we are a large enough, big enough, economically viable and vibrant enough country to be able to support both.”

The timing of any effort to link Ukraine and Israel funding, should such a strategy play out, is unclear. Congress faces a mid-November deadline to fund the federal government.

While the administration has already rushed additional military assistance to Israel in its war against Hamas, the White House expects action from Congress will be required for some of the additional help Israel might need. In his call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Biden vowed to support Israel’s requests in the coming days and weeks, the administration official said.

A Republican senator told NBC News they expect both Israel and Ukraine to be linked in a future spending bill. “I do believe that there will have to be a supplemental that includes aid to Israel as well as Ukraine given the horrific terrorist attacks by Hamas,” the senator said.

The short-term spending bill that Biden signed into law last month to avoid a government shutdown didn’t include any new funding for Ukraine, kicking off a debate about how to handle the matter.

Former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., was subsequently ousted last Tuesday, and GOP members are aiming to elect a new speaker this week. In the meantime, no process for considering future aid to Ukraine has taken shape in Congress.

With strong Democratic support and significant GOP backing, there is a broad bipartisan consensus for assisting both Israel and Ukraine.

“I support providing Israel with the resources they need to defend against these awful terrorist attacks by Hamas that have targeted innocent civilians and also support providing Ukraine with aid at this critical moment,” Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., who is on the Armed Services Committee, told NBC News. “This is a moment where American leadership matters.”

But House GOP opposition to Ukraine assistance has grown in recent months. Last month, 93 Republicans voted for an amendment to a military funding bill offered by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., to bar all military aid to Ukraine. That’s up from 70 Republicans who backed a similar proposal by Gaetz in July.

McCarthy, who isn’t running again for speaker, declined to say at a news conference Monday whether aid to Israel should be part of a package with funding for Ukraine and border security.

“I haven’t seen anything yet,” McCarthy said on NBC News’ “Meet the Press Now,” though he questioned why aid to Israel should be held “hostage for something else.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., an outspoken supporter of Ukraine and Israel, drew some parallels Monday.

“As we have seen in Ukraine, failure to act decisively can prolong the conflict and compound the costs of war,” he wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, but he added: “Israel’s requirements in this war will be different from Ukraine’s.”

The White House believes its ability to support Israel has no effect on its ability to support Ukraine, a U.S. official said. But the administration will most likely have to replenish the stockpile for anything given to Israel in the near term, the official said.

A factor that could help with any U.S. stockpile concerns is that Israel and Ukraine have different air defense systems with differing capabilities, so they aren’t competing for the exact same kind of military support, the official added.

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