© Reuters. U.S. President Joe Biden speaks at a dinner hosted by the Human Rights Campaign at the Washington Convention Center in Washington, U.S., October 14, 2023. REUTERS/Ken Cedeno/File Photo
By Steve Holland, Jarrett Renshaw and Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -President Joe Biden launched a new mission on Thursday to convince Americans they should spend billions more on supporting Israel and Ukraine in their wars, arguing that only the U.S.’s involvement can prevent global chaos.
“American leadership is what holds the world together. American alliances are what keep us, America, safe,” said Biden.
Biden sought to link Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip who attacked Israel to Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose forces invaded Ukraine in February 2022.
“Hamas and Putin represent different threats, but they share this in common: They both want to annihilate a neighboring democracy,” he said.
Biden will ask Congress for $100 billion in new spending, including $60 billion for Ukraine and $14 billion for Israel, a source familiar with his plan told Reuters. The request will also include $10 billion for humanitarian aid, $14 billion for border security and $7 billion for the Indo-Pacific region, the source said.
Half of the $60 billion Biden is requesting for Ukraine would go toward replacing and modernizing U.S. weapons stocks, the source said.
Biden spoke about 20 hours after returning from a whirlwind trip to Israel to show U.S. solidarity after the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas militants who launched incursions from Gaza and killed 1,400 people in southern Israel.
Biden’s message carries some urgency. Israel is poised to launch a ground offensive to root out Palestinian Hamas militants from Gaza and tensions are at a fever pitch after a deadly blast at a Gaza hospital. Already Israel’s counterattack has killed thousands of Palestinians, local authorities say.
Biden said Israel was not responsible for the hospital blast, as Hamas officials had asserted, and said: “We can’t ignore the humanity of innocent Palestinians who only want to live in peace and have opportunity.”
As global protests grow about the attacks on Gaza, Biden urged Israelis not to give in to “blind rage” as they respond to Hamas.
The Republican National Committee accused Biden of coddling Iran after his speech. “Biden could BEGIN holding the Iranian regime accountable by vigorously enforcing oil sanctions, and by reversing course on his appeasement policies that have enriched them with tens of billions of dollars,” it said.
NATO ALLIES THREATENED?
Biden acknowledged that some Americans are asking, “Why does it matter to America” that the United States support the wars?
“I know these conflicts can seem far away,” he said.
“History has taught us that when terrorists don’t pay a price for their terror, when dictators don’t pay a price for their aggression, they cause more chaos and death and more destruction. They keep going and the cost and the threats to America and the world keeps rising,” he said.
If Putin is not stopped, he could threaten Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – all NATO allies, Biden suggested. “If Putin attacks a NATO ally we will defend every inch of NATO,” he said.
If the U.S. doesn’t act, “the risks of conflicts and chaos could spread,” including in the Middle East, he said.
The U.S. president spoke against a backdrop of political chaos in Washington, as Republicans who control the House of Representatives have struggled to settle on who will lead them as speaker after ousting Kevin McCarthy from that job.
Directing his remarks squarely at squabbling Republicans, Biden said: “You can’t let petty, partisan, angry politics get in the way of our responsibilities as a great nation.”
“I refuse to let that happen,” he said.
By lumping the Israel and Ukraine priorities together in one package, Biden is testing whether Republican lawmakers can be persuaded to set aside their opposition and go along with spending on Ukraine, whose 20-month-old war with Russia has absorbed billions of dollars already in U.S. weapons with no end in sight.
The package is expected to be formally unveiled on Friday.
Anticipating a fight with Republicans, Biden pointed to an economic benefit. He said weaponry sent to Israel and Ukraine comes from existing stockpiles and that the money approved by Congress will be used to build fresh supplies built in American factories.
Any funding measure must pass both the Democratic-led U.S. Senate, where additional aid has bipartisan support, and the Republican-led House, which has not had a speaker for 17 days.
Conservative Jim Jordan, an ally of former President Donald Trump, vowed to continue his bid for House speaker after failing to win majority support among Republicans.
House Republican lawmakers in recent weeks nearly brought government to a halt over chronic budget deficits and $31.4 trillion in debt, threatening to slash government spending across the board.
About four in 10 respondents in a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted last week said the U.S. should support Israel’s position in the conflict when given a range of options. Nearly half said Americans should remain neutral or not be involved.
In a separate Reuters/Ipsos poll earlier this month, roughly the same proportion agreed with a statement that Washington “should provide weapons to Ukraine.”