Biden said in a statement Monday that he is “prepared to accept” Ukraine disengagement and Covid aid, which he had originally tried to get through Congress together. Alluding to “several Republicans in Congress” who had resisted the pairing, he added: “However, let me be clear: As vital as it is to help Ukraine combat Russian aggression, it is equally vital to help Americans combat COVID. . Without timely COVID funding, more Americans will die unnecessarily.”
Democrats’ decision to untie pandemic aid is painful for some in the party who have worried about how they can force Republicans to support a Covid aid plan that has languished for months in Congress.
“We need both Covid and Ukraine,” said Senate Appropriations Chair patrick leah (D-Vt.). “We are going to have real problems this fall with Covid and it is a mistake not to have the two together. I’m really sorry.”
But other Democrats have been publicly and privately warning their leaders not to delay US aid to Ukraine as the Russian attack intensifies. Senator tim kain (D-Va.) said he was “okay” with the new strategy, as long as help from Covid eventually passes.
Senate Democrats had hoped to combine the Covid and Ukraine bills, but House Republicans signaled they would not provide the votes to remove an almost guaranteed filibuster from that two-part proposal. Moving forward with Ukraine’s help alone complicates the future of the $10 billion coronavirus legislation, which Senate Republicans blocked over Biden’s plans to lift pandemic-era border restrictions.
“It doesn’t help. Putting those two together would have been a powerful piece of legislation,” the Senate majority whip said. dick durbin (Dill.). He said the impasse over Biden’s plans to lift immigration restrictions is still standing in the way of a bipartisan solution on a coronavirus relief bill.
Thune said Democratic leaders may be more willing than in the past to vote to keep those pandemic restrictions in place. Republicans halted the Covid relief package last month, demanding an amendment vote to keep the Title 42 border policy. Numerous Democrats want to keep that policy rather than reverse it, and if 10 Senate Democrats joined Republicans, it could even pass the chamber, further complicating aid’s path to Biden’s desk. A Schumer spokesman would not comment on Thune’s comments.
Biden said in his statement that he wants Congress to move quickly on the Covid relief plan after finishing his Ukraine relief work.
The uncertainty ahead of pandemic funding is a worrying scenario for the Biden administration, which is trying to stock up on vaccine for the millions of booster shots that will be needed in the fall to prepare for a potential winter surge.
The US government is also keeping tabs on other spending related to the pandemic, including a $5 billion Pfizer contract to develop doses of Covid pills. It’s unclear exactly when that money is due, but some Democrats privately say Congress can’t wait for the government’s funding fight in September, according to multiple people familiar with the discussions.
Still, top Democrats stressed Ukraine’s help was needed more urgently as Russian forces continue to escalate their attack.
Biden is still hopeful that a bill providing billions for treatment, testing and vaccines could pass Congress in the coming weeks, as the president and his administration warn that new variants and a wave could tax the national resources of the country.
Ukraine’s package is several billion dollars more than the initial White House request. Top Democrats and Republicans agreed to an additional $6.8 billion beyond what Biden requested, split evenly between military and humanitarian aid. The deal was first reported by Punchbowl News.