Biden condemns House recess without new Ukraine aid deal

  • By Matt Murphy & Anthony Searcher
  • BBC News, Washington

image source, AFP via Getty Images

President Joe Biden has called the US House's decision to call for a two-week recess without providing new aid to Ukraine “strange” and “authoritarian”.

On Tuesday, the Senate approved $95bn (£75bn) in aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan in a bipartisan vote.

House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Republican, has said the lower chamber will not vote without additional funding for border security.

Mr Biden said failure to provide new aid would damage America's reputation.

“I wouldn't say panic, but there is real concern about the United States being a reliable ally,” Mr Biden fumed during a White House press conference.

“It's time for them to step up, don't you think? Sitting on two weeks off? What are they thinking. God, it's weird,” he told reporters.

The president's intervention comes after Speaker Johnson effectively killed a Senate-approved bill that would have earmarked $60bn in new aid for the Ukrainian military.

Twenty-two Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, joined Democrats in voting to approve the legislation.

Mr Johnson told reporters this week that the proposals failed to address his demands for new funding for the US southern border, and insisted the House would “act as it will” on its own proposals.

“House Republicans have been clear from the beginning of the debates that the so-called national security legislation must recognize that national security begins at our own borders,” the Louisiana lawmaker said.

He pulled Friday's scheduled vote with one day's notice and instead declared a two-week holiday. The move comes under the influence of some members of his own party, who were in the process of quickly publishing an alternative plan for Ukraine aid.

The death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny on Friday gives added urgency to calls from the United States to punish Russian President Vladimir Putin for funding Ukrainian protests against the Russian invasion, and could prompt further talks to find a way to end the legislative deadlock. .

Addressing Mr Navalny's death on Friday, Mr Johnson said “Congress will continue to debate the best way to support Ukraine”.

“As international leaders meet in Munich, we must be clear that Putin will meet with a united opposition,” he said in a statement.

However, political obstacles to Congress passing the aid package remain significant. By the time the House of Representatives returns from its recess, the spotlight may have shifted from talk of Russian misdeeds to a shutdown of the U.S. government, which could occur in the first week of March without congressional action.

The United States has already approved $44.2 billion in military aid to Ukraine, but some members of the Republican Party — urged by former President Donald Trump — are increasingly skeptical of further funding.

Ukrainian troops were forced to withdraw from the key eastern city of Avdiivka on Friday as the election campaign in Washington comes as Russian forces surround it.

Oleksandr Chirsky, Ukraine's commander-in-chief, said his forces had withdrawn “to avoid encirclement and to protect the lives and health of service personnel”.

The city, which has been the scene of heavy fighting in recent months, is a strategically important area seen as the gateway to the regional Ukrainian capital of Donetsk, which was captured by Russian-backed militias in 2014 and later illegally annexed by Moscow.

White House national security spokesman John Kirby said Thursday that Congress's failure to address the need for new military aid is contributing to the troop struggle in Kiev.

“Because Congress has yet to pass a companion bill, they are unable to provide Ukraine with the artillery shells they desperately need to disrupt these Russian attacks,” Mr Kirby said.

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