Biden Says ‘World Is Watching’ as Ukraine Aid Stalls

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(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden urged Congress to approve additional aid for Ukraine before Christmas, as Republican objections fuel worries the US’s will to resist Russia’s invasion is flagging.

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“This cannot wait,” Biden said in a Wednesday address from the Roosevelt Room of the White House. “Petty, partisan, angry politics can’t get in the way of our responsibility as a leading nation in the world. And literally, the entire world is watching.”

Biden said he was willing to consider immigration policy changes to secure a deal, winning praise from a key Republican lawmaker.

Conservative Republicans have stalled fresh support for three months, demanding major concessions from the White House and Democrats on immigration policy to curb a surge in migrant crossings at the US border with Mexico. The impasse has sparked fears the aid will not be approved this year.

The president has looked to ratchet up pressure on Congress by arguing a failure to approve new funds could embolden Russia. The president met virtually earlier Wednesday with the leaders of Group of Seven industrialized nations and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in an effort to reassure them of US support.

It was the second such call Biden has held with G7 leaders in the past two months in an effort to persuade them America would stand by Kyiv against Moscow’s military assault. About two weeks later, Biden delivered a rare Oval Office address casting Ukraine’s war effort and stopping Putin as imperative for US democracy.

But those pleas have thus far been ignored. Congress has yet to approve a new aid package, even though administration officials have warned funding is running dry.

The delays have raised doubts about the US’s ability to maintain backing for Ukraine. The hold-up comes as Kyiv’s counteroffensive, backed by the last major tranche of Western aid, has failed to deliver a major breakthrough against Russian forces.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is digging in for a conflict that could last years, confident he can outlast the US and its allies.

Zelenskiy in the Wednesday call with allies vowed to press on with his counteroffensive even though it has not achieved its overarching goals.

“Russia hopes only for one thing – that next year the free world’s consolidation will collapse,” Zelenskiy said.

Biden has called on Congress to approve an emergency spending package that includes $61 billion in Ukraine aid. The White House budget director on Monday warned lawmakers the US would completely run out of money for Ukraine by year’s end if new funding is not approved.

“History is going to judge harshly those who turn their back on freedom’s cause. We can’t let Putin win,” Biden said.

The Senate plans to leave for the Christmas holiday on Dec. 15, meaning it has only nine days to reach an agreement. The Senate could extend its session by a week, lawmakers have said.

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The Ukraine aid is part of a nearly $106 billion request for emergency funds that also includes support for Israel in its war against Hamas, reinforcements for the southern border and support for US allies in the Pacific.

The Senate is expected hold a test vote later Wednesday on the overall aid package, but that is expected to fail. Senate Republicans are widely expected to block opening debate on the measure over their immigration demands, but supporters of Ukraine aid have expressed optimism it sparks new rounds of talks.

Biden said he was “willing to make significant compromises on the border” but accused Republicans of “playing chicken with our national security” by “holding Ukraine’s funding hostage to their extreme partisan border policies.” He said Republicans were unwilling to back away from their demands and negotiate with Democrats.

Senator James Lankford, the top GOP immigration negotiator, called Biden’s comments a positive development.

“We need the White House to engage as they have been for a couple of weeks,” Lankford told reporters at the Capitol.

Zelenskiy was due to address senators on Tuesday to urge the body to approve the aid package, but his speech was abruptly canceled as talks dragged on.

It was conveyed to Zelenskiy that the meeting would be consumed by partisan bickering over immigration policy, according to people familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity, a US domestic fight the Ukrainian president thought he should avoid.

The US was officially told a situation on the battlefield required Zelenskiy’s attention and prevented him from joining the briefing, according to a person familiar with the matter.

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--With assistance from Erik Wasson, Daryna Krasnolutska, Daniel Flatley and Josh Wingrove.

(Updates to add comments from Senator Lankford)

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