By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Joe Biden’s latest request for Ukraine assistance faced new hurdles in the U.S. Congress on Thursday as factions of Republicans argued over federal spending ahead of a possible October government shutdown.
Last month, Biden asked Congress to approve $40 billion in additional spending, including $24 billion for Ukraine and other international needs and $16 billion in disaster relief, testing the country’s willingness to keep supporting Ukraine during its counteroffensive against Russian invaders.
U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, say Ukraine’s counteroffensive, which has so far failed to penetrate Russia’s main defenses, is going slower than they expected and hoped.
The Senate and House of Representatives are due to consider the request this month, possibly adding it to a short-term spending bill to keep the government open after Sept. 30 while they debate a budget for next year.
The Republican-majority House is divided, with many Republicans backing the aid but some of the party’s farthest-right members calling for an end to the Ukraine assistance. Citing Republican sources, CNN and other news outlets reported that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is considering legislation including the disaster aid but leaving out the Ukraine funding.
McCarthy’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Democratic and Republican leaders of the Senate, which is narrowly controlled by Biden’s fellow Democrats, repeatedly pushed for the aid this week.
“We must continue to show Putin and the forces of autocracy that the U.S. stands firmly behind Ukraine. The worst thing we could do right now for our own national security, and for our democratic values, is to waver or hesitate in our support,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said.
“Standing with our allies against (Russian President Vladimir) Putin is directly and measurably strengthening the U.S. military, growing the U.S. industrial base, and supporting thousands of good-paying American jobs,” Senate Republican minority leader Mitch McConnell said.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced a new package of wartime assistance worth more than $1 billion during a visit to Kyiv on Wednesday, saying the assistance would help build momentum for the counteroffensive, which began in June.
The Biden administration has pressured Congress to act. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan held a classified briefing on Thursday for Senate leadership and committee leaders from both parties.
The White House issued a statement urging McCarthy to back the supplemental spending request and contrasting him with Senate Republicans.
“Like Senate Republicans, Speaker McCarthy should keep his word about government funding,” White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said in a statement.
“And he should do so in a way that acts on these pressing issues – including fentanyl, national security, and disaster response – rather than break his promise and cave to the most extreme members of his conference agitating for a baseless impeachment stunt and shutdown,” he said.
McCarthy aides did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the emailed statement.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle, additional reporting by Jeff Mason, Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali; editing by Don Durfee and David Gregorio)