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Biden pushes for more spending on Israel and Ukraine in Oval Office address

President Biden addresses the nation on the conflict between Israel and Gaza and the Russian invasion of Ukraine from the Oval Office of the White House on Thursday.
Updated October 19, 2023 at 8:18 PM ET

President Biden gave a rare Oval Office address to make the case that it is in Americans’ best interests to hike funding for Israel after the deadly Hamas attack — and funding for Ukraine, embroiled in its long fight against Russia.

The Oval Office backdrop is a signal of the gravity that Biden places on these national security matters. The speech was only the second time he has spoken to the nation from behind the Resolute Desk; the first was in June, after the debt ceiling crisis was averted.

Tonight’s remarks came just after Biden returned from a whirlwind trip to Tel Aviv, where he pressed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his war cabinet on their military strategy to fight Hamas, the Palestinian militant group, after the Oct. 7 attack on Israel. Biden expressed concerns about civilians in Gaza — but he has been adamant that Israel has a right to defend itself, and pledged he would ask for “an unprecedented support package for Israel’s defense” this week.

“My administration has been in close touch with your leadership from the first moments of this attack, and we are going to make sure we have — you have what you need to protect your people, to defend your nation,” Biden said in Tel Aviv.

It’s Biden’s second try to get more Ukraine funding from Congress

Even before the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, Biden had been planning a speech to Americans about his foreign policy priorities.

He had said he was worried that Congress would undermine his promise to back Ukraine in its fight against Russia. In its most recent government funding bill, Congress failed to include $24 billion to keep military and economic aid flowing to Ukraine until the end of the year.

The White House faces two hurdles on Ukraine aid: waning public support — primarily among Republicans — and a still-unfilled role of speaker of the House. Without a speaker, it’s unlikely the Republican-controlled lower chamber can pass spending bills.

Biden spoke to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Thursday ahead of of his speech, the White House said.

Biden could push for other national security priorities, too

In his formal request to Congress, it’s possible Biden could ask for more funding for Taiwan, as well.

He had also previously asked Congress for $4 billion in funding to deal with fentanyl trafficking and issues at the southern U.S. border, but that money also was left out of this fall’s funding bill. Both funding for Taiwan and border security are elements some Republican leaders in Congress have shown support for.

“In the coming days, it will be the Senate’s responsibility to take strong and decisive action to put support behind Israel’s self-defense, equip Ukraine for victory … and help Taiwan deter growing threats,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday.

Combining several different issues into one bill could be a risky move in a divided Congress, but Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, told NPR it could help broaden support for the funding.

“I’m hopeful that it actually broadens the support for members of Congress who are focused on different issues,” Sullivan said. “And as you know, a lot of times in the Congress, things happen where you get a bill or a funding package that you don’t agree with everything, but if you agree with a lot of it, it can broaden the support.”

Biden has said it’s critical for the U.S. to show leadership in the world, including on funding for both Ukraine and Israel.

“We’re the United States of America for God’s sake, the most powerful nation in the history — not in the world, in the history of the world,” he said in a recent interview with CBS’ 60 Minutes.

“We have the capacity to do this and we have an obligation to … And, if we don’t, who does?”

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.
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