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Biden signs package for $95 billion in military aid to Ukraine and Israel, TikTok ban

Biden signed the $95 billion war aid measure package into law that includes military assistance for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, along with a provision for TikTok to be sold or banned in the US. The military package was passed by the Senate earlier after months of delays.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Washington Updated on: April 25, 2024 1:22 IST
Biden, US package
Image Source : REUTERS US president Joe Biden

Washington: US President Joe Biden on Wednesday formally signed a $95 billion war aid measure package into law that includes military assistance for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan while also including a provision that would force social media platform TikTok to be sold or be banned in the US. This came after the US Senate passed the package after months of delays following a furious debate over US priorities.

The announcement marks an end to the long, painful battle with Republicans in Congress over urgently needed assistance for Ukraine. “We rose to the moment, we came together, and we got it done," Biden said at White House event to announce the signing. "Now we need to move fast, and we are.”

But significant damage has been done to the Biden administration's effort to help Ukraine repel Russia's invasion during the funding impasse that dates back to August, when the Democratic president made his first emergency spending request for Ukraine aid. Even with a burst of new weapons and ammunition, it's unlikely Ukraine will immediately recover after months of setbacks.

Biden approved immediately sending Ukraine $1 billion in military assistance and said the shipment would begin arriving in the “next few hours" — the first tranche from about $61 billion allocated for Ukraine.

What does the package include?

The package includes air defence capabilities, artillery rounds, armoured vehicles and other weapons to shore up Ukrainian forces who have seen morale sink as Russian President Vladimir Putin has racked up win after win.

But longer term, it remains uncertain if Ukraine — after months of losses in Eastern Ukraine and sustaining massive damage to its infrastructure — can make enough progress to sustain American political support before burning through the latest influx of money.

“It's not going in the Ukrainians' favour in the Donbas, certainly not elsewhere in the country,” said White House national security spokesman John Kirby, referring to the eastern industrial heartland where Ukraine has suffered setbacks. “Mr. Putin thinks he can play for time. So we've got to try to make up some of that time.”

Tucked into the measure is a provision that gives TikTok's Beijing-based parent company, ByteDance, nine months to sell it or face a nationwide prohibition in the United States. The president can grant a one-time extension of 90 days, bringing the timeline to sell to one year, if he certifies that there's a path to divestiture and “significant progress” toward executing it.

The administration and a bipartisan group of lawmakers have called the social media site a growing national security concern. TikTok said it will wage a legal challenge against what it called an “unconstitutional” effort by Congress. “We believe the facts and the law are clearly on our side, and we will ultimately prevail,” the company said in a statement.

The bill also includes about $26 billion in aid for Israel and a surge of about $1 billion in humanitarian relief for Palestinians in Gaza suffering as the Israel-Hamas war continues. Biden said Israel must ensure the humanitarian aid for Palestinians in bill reaches Gaza “without delay”.

Divisions in US over military aid

House Speaker Mike Johnson delayed a vote on the supplemental aid package for months as members of his party's far right wing, including Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Thomas Massie of Kentucky, threatened to move to oust him if he allowed a vote to send more assistance to Ukraine. Those threats persist.

Former President Donald Trump, the presumptive 2024 presidential GOP nominee, has complained that European allies have not done enough for Ukraine. While he stopped short of endorsing the supplemental funding package, his tone has shifted in recent days, acknowledging that Ukraine's survival is important to the United States.

Indeed, many European leaders have long been nervous that a second Trump presidency would mean decreased US support for Ukraine and for the NATO military alliance. The European anxiety was heightened in February when Trump in a campaign speech warned NATO allies that he “would encourage” Russia “to do whatever the hell they want” to countries that don't meet defense spending goals if he returns to the White House.

It was a key moment in the debate over Ukraine spending. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg quickly called out Trump for putting “American and European soldiers at increased risk”. Biden days later called Trump's comments "dangerous" and “un-American” and accused Trump of playing into Putin's hands.

But in reality, the White House maneuvering to win additional funding for Ukraine started months earlier. Biden, the day after returning from a whirlwind trip to Tel Aviv following Hamas militants' stunning October 7 attack on Israel, used a rare prime time address to make his pitch for the supplemental funding.

Republicans opposed sending money to Ukraine

At the time, the House was in chaos because the Republican majority had been unable to select a speaker to replace Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who had been ousted more than two weeks earlier. McCarthy's reckoning with the GOP's far right came after he agreed earlier in the year to allow federal spending levels that many in his right flank disagreed with and wanted undone.

Far-right Republicans have also adamantly opposed sending more money for Ukraine, with the war appearing to have no end in sight. Biden in August requested more than $20 billion to keep aid flowing into Ukraine, but the money was stripped out of a must-pass spending bill even as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy travelled to Washington to make a personal plea for continued US backing.

By late October, Republicans finally settled on Johnson, a low-profile Louisiana Republican whose thinking on Ukraine was opaque, to serve as the next speaker. Biden during his congratulatory call with Johnson urged him to quickly pass Ukraine aid and began a months-long, largely behind-the-scenes effort to bring the matter to a vote.

In private conversations with Johnson, Biden and White House officials leaned into the stakes for Europe if Ukraine were to fall to Russia. Five days after Johnson was formally elected speaker, national security adviser Jake Sullivan outlined to him the administration's strategy on Ukraine and assured him that accountability measures were in place in Ukraine to track where the aid was going — an effort to address a common complaint from conservatives.

On explicit orders from Biden, White House officials also avoided directly attacking Johnson over the stalled aid. Johnson came off to White House officials as direct and an honest actor throughout the negotiations, according to a senior administration official. Biden had success finding common ground with Republicans earlier in his term to win the passage of a $1 trillion infrastructure deal, legislation to boost the US semiconductor industry, and an expansion of federal health care services for veterans exposed to toxic smoke from burn pits. And he knew there was plenty of Republican support for further Ukraine funding.

Biden praises House, Senate leaders

Biden praised Johnson and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., saying in the end they “stepped up and did the right thing". 

“History will remember this moment," Biden said. "For all the talk about how dysfunctional things are in Washington, when you look over the past three years, we've seen it time and again on the critical issues. We've actually come together.” At frustrating moments during the negotiations, Biden urged his aides to “just keep talking, keep working”, according to the official, who requested anonymity to discuss internal discussions.

So they did. In a daily meeting convened by White House chief of staff Jeff Zients, the president's top aides — seated around a big oval table in Zients' office — would brainstorm possible ways to better make the case about Ukraine's dire situation in the absence of aid. Steve Ricchetti, counselor to the president, and legislative affairs director Shuwanza Goff were in regular contact with Johnson. Goff and Johnson's senior staff also spoke frequently as a deal came into focus. The White House also sought to accommodate Johnson and his various asks. For instance, administration officials at the speaker's request briefed Reps. Chip Roy, R-Texas, and Ralph Norman, R-SC, two conservatives who were persistent antagonists of Johnson.

All the while, senior Biden officials frequently updated McConnell as well as key Republican committee leaders, including Reps. Michael McCaul and Mike Turner. In public, the administration deployed a strategy of downgrading intelligence that demonstrated Russia's efforts to tighten its ties with US adversaries China, North Korea and Iran to fortify Moscow's defence industrial complex and get around US and European sanctions.

The $61 billion can help triage Ukrainian forces, but Kyiv will need much more for a fight that could last years, military experts say. Realistic goals for the months ahead for Ukraine — and its allies — include avoiding the loss of major cities, slowing Russia's momentum and getting additional weaponry to Kyiv that could help them go on the offensive in 2025, said Bradley Bowman, a defence strategy and policy analyst at the Foundation for the Defence of Democracies in Washington.

“In our microwave culture, we tend to want immediate results,” Bowman said. “And sometimes things are just hard and you can't get immediate results. I think Ukrainian success is not guaranteed, but Russian success is if we stop supporting Ukraine." Biden lamented that the package did not include money to bolster US border security. The White House had proposed including in the package provisions that it said would have helped stem the tide of migrants and asylum seekers coming to the US.

Republicans, however, rejected the proposal at the urging of Trump, who did not want to give Biden the win on an issue that's been an albatross for the Democratic administration. “It should have been included in this bill,” Biden said. “I'm determined to get it done for the American people.”

(AP)

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