President Joe Biden on Tuesday called on the Republican-led House of Representatives to act quickly to approve the $95.34bn (£75.69bn) defence aid package which passed the Senate by a vote of 70-29 earlier in the day, warning House Speaker Mike Johnson and his colleagues that their actions will be remembered long in the future.
“If we don’t stop [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s appetite for power and control in Ukraine, he won’t limit himself just to Ukraine, and the cost for America and our allies and partners are going to rise,” he said, speaking from the State Dining Room in the White House just hours after the Senate vote.
“For Republicans in Congress who think they can oppose funding for Ukraine and not be held accountable. History is watching ... failure to support Ukraine at this critical moment will never be forgotten,’ he added.
Mr Biden urged Mr Johnson, a Louisiana Republican who first gained a measure of prominence in late 2020 by leading GOP efforts to help former president Donald Trump remain in office despite losing the 2020 presidential election, to allow the lower chamber to take up the legislation “immediately,” citing the bipartisan support it received in the Senate and would undoubtedly receive in the House if allowed to reach the floor.
While the president called on Mr Johnson to “let the full House speak its mind” rather than “allow a minority of most extreme voices ... to block this bill even from being voted on,” it’s unlikely that the House speaker will let the foreign aid bill see the light of day.
That’s because Mr Trump has all but ordered him and other Republicans to oppose the defence aid measure, which if passed would deliver a foreign policy victory to Mr Biden in an election year.
Mr Johnson and a significant number of House and Senate Republicans, even some who once voiced loud support for arming Kyiv’s defence forces in the face of Russian aggression, have followed the disgraced, twice-impeached ex-president’s lead in opposing the aid bill. And in recent days, Mr Trump himself has called into question whether he would defend any of America’s longtime allies against an attack by Moscow if he is returned to power after this year’s general election.
On Saturday, Mr Trump told rally goers in Conway, South Carolina that he’d “encourage” Russia to move aggressively against Nato countries that don’t meet a years-old two per cent GDP defence spending target, which he inaccurately described as if the targets were dues to one of his golf clubs.
The ex-president described a meeting at which he’d told a Nato head of state he would not support invoking the transatlantic alliance’s mutual defence provisions in such a case.
“You didn’t pay? You’re delinquent?’ ... ‘Yes, let’s say that happened.’ No, I would not protect you. In fact I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want. You gotta pay,” he said.
Mr Biden said Mr Trump’s remarks have raised the stakes of the nearly two-year-old war in Ukraine, calling them a “dangerous and shocking and un-American signal to the world” as well as “an invitation to Putin to invade some of our allies”.
The president accused Mr Trump, the likely Republican nominee against whom he’ll run for re-election this year, of having “bowed down to a Russian dictator,” something he said no other American president had ever done.
He also noted that his twice-impeached predecessor’s remarks indicated that Mr Trump, despite having spent four years in the White House as President of the United States, does not understand what Nato is or how the half-century-old alliance works.
While Mr Biden said the Nato alliance and its mutual defence obligations are a “sacred commitment” for America, he slammed Mr Trump for viewing it as a mob boss would view an extortion scheme in which local businesses pay to not be destroyed.
“He doesn’t see an alliance that protects America and the world, he sees a protection racket — he doesn’t understand that Nato is built on fundamental principles of freedom, security, and national sovereignty,” he said, because “principles never matter” for Mr Trump.
“Everything is transactional — he doesn’t understand that the sacred commitment we’ve given works for us as well,” Mr Biden said, adding that the only time the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s mutual defence provision has been triggered was in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
Continuing, Mr Biden noted that Mr Putin and other adversaries of the US had “long sought to create cracks” in the Nato alliance, and said Mr Trump’s comments were sure to have brought about cheers from America’s enemies.
He added that he would “never” walk away from Nato and said he couldn’t imagine “any other president” doing so either, and vowed that as long as he is in the White House, the US would defend “every inch” of the alliance’s territory against Moscow.