Biden condemns Trump’s NATO comments as ‘dangerous’ and urges approval of aid to Ukraine

The bill to assist the invaded country faces an uncertain future in the House of Representatives despite passing the Senate on Tuesday by a large majority

Chuck Schumer
Senate Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer after the passage of the funding bill for aid to Ukraine and Israel in Washington on February 13.JIM LO SCALZO (EFE)
Macarena Vidal Liy

Helping Ukraine is now more urgent than ever. Speaking from the White House this Tuesday, U.S. President Joe Biden reiterated that and called on the House of Representatives to approve the necessary funds for the invaded country, after the Senate gave them the go-ahead earlier Tuesday. The aid package faces an uncertain future in the House, where the Republican majority opposes renewing assistance to Kyiv, in the midst of a debate over the United States’ role in NATO following Donald Trump’s statements this past weekend encouraging Russia to do “whatever the hell it wants” with other European countries. In his address, Biden condemned the Republican’s comments, stating: “The stakes were already high for American security before this bill was passed in the Senate… But in recent days, those stakes have risen. And that’s because the former president has sent a dangerous and shockingly, frankly un-American signal to the world.”

“No other president in our history has ever bowed down to a Russian dictator. Let me say this as clearly as I can — I never will. For God’s sake, it’s dumb, it’s shameful, it’s dangerous, it’s un-American.” he reiterated, in a statement in the White House lobby after which he did not take questions.

On Saturday, at an election rally, Trump had alluded to an alleged conversation during his term in office with a leader of a European country, who asked him if the United States would protect NATO members who do not spend at least 2% of their GDP on defense. The likely future Republican presidential candidate replied: “No, I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want.”

“Supporting this bill is standing up to Putin, Opposing it is playing into Putin’s hands,” Biden added this afternoon. The president spoke after early this morning the controversial national security aid bill received the green light in the Senate, by 70 votes to 29, after four months of tough negotiations.

The good news for proponents of continued support for Ukraine — who insist that turning their backs on the overrun country would give free rein to Russia and other authoritarian regimes — is that the funds received support from nearly the entire Democratic caucus and 22 Republican senators. The national security aid bill provides $95 billion, of which $60.1 billion will go to Ukraine and $14 billion to assist Israel in its war in Gaza, along with a smaller item to aid Palestinians. With these figures, the assistance from the United States, the biggest international supporter of Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s government, would exceed $170 billion.

The bad news is that the remaining Republican senators, who represent the majority of the conference, voted against it. That presages many obstacles for advancing the measure in the House of Representatives, where that group holds the majority and opposition to renewing aid for Ukraine is much tougher. The Speaker of the House, Republican Mike Johnson, has come out strongly against the bill as it stands. Meanwhile, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Trump, opposes any foreign aid that is not in the form of a loan, as he said on social media this weekend.

Johnson demands that the bill contain provisions to tighten control of the border with Mexico, where at least 2.4 million irregular crossings were recorded in 2023, the highest number so far. “House Republicans were crystal clear from the very beginning of discussions that any so-called national security supplemental legislation must recognize that national security begins at our own border,” he emphasized. “In the absence of having received any single border policy change from the Senate, the House will have to continue to work its own will on these important matters.”

Johnson’s statements come after the Senate rejected a bill last week that was agreed upon after complicated negotiations that began in October and which contained immigration reform that tightened border control in addition to funds for national security. That “no” was a slap in the face to Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and it occurred after Trump — who wants to make immigration one of his main campaign issues — recommended that legislators vote against a text he deemed “horrible.”

The Speaker of the House claims that “the mandate of the Homeland Security Extraordinary Departure Act was to reinforce the U.S. border before sending more foreign aid around the world.”

In the past, Johnson has said that he was open to approving aid to Ukraine. But the major problem is the strong opposition in his party to handing over more funds. Some refuse to do so because they believe that the disbursement is not transparent enough. Others object because they think that the money should be used to solve internal U.S. problems, or because the conflict is dragging on and they do not see an exit strategy. Still others reject the measure because they support former president Trump’s isolationist thesis and vision of foreign assistance as something on which to trade. That latter trend has grown as it becomes clear that Trump will be the presidential candidate and has polls in his favor.

For Johnson, simply bringing the Senate Ukraine aid bill to the floor for a vote would be a political death sentence. His predecessor, Kevin McCarthy, was ousted in September on a motion to vacate by his party’s hardline wing after the then-Speaker moved another budget bill that was requested by the Biden administration and passed in the Senate.

One possible avenue for the Speaker of the House is to let the Republican caucus draft its own bill. But his party’s legislators are locked in bitter infighting between hardliners and moderates, and they have been unable to agree on much of anything since the McCarthy debacle.

After the Senate vote, leaders from the upper chamber of congress hailed the passage of relief, which seemed dead only a week earlier, following the rejection of the bill that contained immigration provisions. “If we want the world to remain a safe place for freedom, for democratic principles, for our future prosperity, then America must lead the way. And with this bill, the Senate declares that American leadership will not waver, will not falter, will not fail,” Democratic Majority Leader Charles Schumer said. Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell indicated that “the Senate understands America’s national security responsibilities and will not abandon them.”

In a statement, U.S. President Joe Biden expressed his satisfaction with the Senate’s passage of the bill. He also urged the House of Representatives to pass the measure as soon as possible and, without mentioning him, slammed Trump’s positions: “There are those who say American leadership and our alliances and partnerships with countries around the world do not matter. They do. If we do not stand against tyrants who seek to conquer or carve up their neighbors’ territory, the consequences for America’s national security will be significant. Our allies and adversaries alike will take note.”

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