Ukraine, Israel aid in limbo as US Congress beats shutdown deadline

The U.S. Capitol building in Washington

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Congress closed its doors for nearly two weeks on Thursday without passing emergency aid for Israel and Ukraine, as lawmakers argued over unrelated immigration policy and faced pockets of resistance from Republicans on continued aide for Kyiv's war against Russia.

The Senate adjourned well after midnight after passing a stopgap spending bill to avert a government shutdown. Supporters of the foreign military aid had hoped it would be included in the spending bill, known as a continuing resolution.

President Joe Biden asked Congress to approve the money last month. Its omission from the spending bill raised concerns that funding for Kyiv might never be appropriated especially after the Republican-led House passed a bill this month including assistance for Israel, but not Ukraine.

The Senate's Democratic leaders rejected that bill.

A vocal bloc of Republicans oppose sending more aid to Kyiv as it fights a nearly 21-month-long Russian invasion. Opponents of the aid say U.S. taxpayer money should be spent at home, but majority of Republicans and Democrats in Congress still support aid to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's government.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll this week showed 41% of Americans backed sending weapons to Ukraine, compared to 32% who were opposed and the rest unsure. The same poll showed U.S. public support dropping for Israel's war against Hamas militants.

Assistance for Israel, which already receives $3.8 billion per year in U.S. security assistance, typically passes Congress with strong bipartisan support.

Biden's security assistance request to Congress included $60 billion for Ukraine - about half to replenish U.S. military stockpiles - as well as about $14 billion each for Israel and security at the border with Mexico.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said the Senate would work on Biden's request as soon it returns from next week's Thanksgiving holiday.

"I know both sides genuinely care about approving aid to Israel and Ukraine and helping innocent civilians in Gaza. So I hope we can come to an agreement even if neither side gets everything they insist on," he told a news conference.

'DANGEROUSLY BROKEN'

Republicans said a security bill without border money was a non-starter. Although Democrats control a slim majority in the Senate, they cannot pass most bills without Republican votes.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said reinforcing the U.S. border was more important than sending aid abroad. "I'm a big fan of helping Ukraine. But the border is just dangerously broken," he told reporters at the Senate on Wednesday.

A dramatic increase in the number of undocumented migrants crossing into the southwestern United States has challenged the country's capacity to detain and process newcomers, posing a political challenge for Biden as he seeks re-election next year.

Congress has approved $113 billion for Ukraine since the invasion began in February 2022. That funding could be depleted within a few months.

But supporters of the aid said they remained optimistic.

"The most likely path forward is for the Senate to continue to do its bipartisan work and find common ground," Representative Hakeem Jeffries, who leads Democrats in the House, told MSNBC.

Biden administration officials have testified repeatedly to Congress on the importance of the aid.

"We believe there are strong majorities in Congress for the supplemental funding and that the urgency is understood by leadership in both chambers," a senior State Department official said on Thursday. "And we're just working through what I think have been very reasonable requests for more information and understanding of how the money will be important for Ukraine's success."

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; additional reporting by Richard Cowan, Doina Chiacu and Simon Lewis; editing by Don Durfee and David Gregorio)