Trump Pushes Ukraine Aid as a Loan With Funding Bill Stalled

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(Bloomberg) -- Former President Donald Trump pushed for providing Ukraine aid as a loan as efforts to approve further assistance remain deadlocked in Congress amid a domestic fight over immigration and border policy.

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“They want to give them $60 billion more,” Trump said Wednesday at a rally in North Charleston, as he campaigned before South Carolina’s Feb. 24 Republican presidential primary. “Do it this way. Loan them the money. If they can make it, they pay us back. If they can’t make it, they don’t have to pay us back.”

“Why should you just hand it over to them? Do it as the form of a loan,” he added.

Trump likened the plan to deals he said he cut with athletes who had potential but lacked money at the start of their careers.

“I do that with athletes,” Trump said. “You know like a professional golfer who I think is very good. They don’t have any money, but they have a lot of talent. I’ll say here’s the deal.”

Trump pushed his allies in Congress to kill a proposal that included both tougher border policies with Ukraine funding, urging Republicans to hold out for a “perfect” deal on immigration. Senators passed a $95 billion package Tuesday that drops the immigration measures and includes over $60 billion in Ukraine aid, along with funds for Israel, Taiwan and humanitarian aid for the Gaza Strip. Republican Speaker Mike Johnson, though, is refusing to take it up until a GOP-only bill on immigration is enacted.

Read More: Trump Eyes NATO Makeover, Hurried Peace in Ukraine If Elected

Some Senate Republicans who support Ukraine aid in principle, including Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma, backed an idea floated by Trump over the weekend in a social media post that would make the foreign aid to Ukraine and other countries zero-interest loans with no scheduled repayments.

NATO Threat

The former president is considering scaled-back commitments to some members of NATO and pushing Ukraine to negotiate an end to the war with Russia if he returns to office.

Trump allies have discussed essentially a two-tiered NATO alliance, where Article 5 — which requires common defense of any member under attack — would apply only to nations that hit defense-spending goals, according to the people, who asked not to be identified and cautioned no policy decisions have been finalized.

Trump has said he would allow Russia to do “whatever the hell they want” to member countries that failed to meet their funding commitments. He reiterated his criticism of the alliance on Wednesday night.

Republicans have largely shrugged off those comments but they caused alarm in many foreign capitals, where there is already growing concern about the US commitment to global security amid the standoff over Ukraine aid.

Both Nikki Haley, Trump’s last major Republican challenger, and President Joe Biden, his likely general-election opponent, have seized on his opposition to Ukraine aid and criticism of NATO allies as an opening to attack the GOP frontrunner’s foreign policy tenets.

Read More: Biden Hits Trump’s ‘Shameful’ NATO Threat, Urges Ukraine Aid

Biden on Tuesday delivered a blistering rebuke of Trump, urging Johnson to ignore the GOP frontrunner’s pressure and allow a House vote on Ukraine aid.

“For God sake, it’s dumb, it’s shameful, it’s dangerous, it’s un-American,” Biden said about Trump’s comments regarding NATO.

Trump’s rhetoric on the military alliance, though, is likely to appeal to his base, which has embraced his populist foreign policy stances. Haley has been an outlier in the GOP contest, espousing more traditional views such as support for Ukraine.

Recent polls show Trump leading Haley by more than 30 percentage points in South Carolina as he closes in on the nomination.

Read more: Haley Assails Trump Over NATO, Tariffs in Bid to Close 2024 Gap

Haley called it a “mistake” for Trump to side with Putin over US allies n an interview with Bloomberg Television’s Surveillance on Monday.

“Do we want NATO to pay more? Of course we do. But the last thing we’re going to do is side with a thug,” she said.

Haley is backing legislation that would allow the US to seize sovereign Russian assets to pay for Ukraine’s reconstruction, putting her on the same page as the White House.

(Updates with additional details, background from 11th paragraph)

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