WASHINGTON — The Senate on Thursday passed an additional $12.35 billion Ukraine aid package as part of its stopgap government funding bill needed to avoid a shutdown, as Republicans pushed the White House on using outstanding funds before they expire on Friday.
President Joe Biden still has not used the remaining $2.1 billion in presidential drawdown authority to transfer weapons to Kyiv that Congress already approved in the Ukraine aid bill it passed in May. The authorization has an expiration date of Sept. 30.
The Republican portrayal of that money as unused aid gone to waste is in dispute, though, as White House officials argue the new funding request builds on the old batch.
In addition to the $12.3 billion in extra Ukraine aid, the continuing resolution that the Senate passed by a vote of 72-25 on Thursday also authorizes a separate $3.7 billion in presidential drawdown authority. This authority allows the White House to send security aid to Ukraine from existing U.S. stockpiles. Biden has used his presidential drawdown authority at least 20 times since August 2021 to provide approximately $12.5 billion in U.S. military equipment to Ukraine.
Republicans so far have unsuccessfully pressed the Biden administration to use the leftover $2.1 billion in Ukraine military aid in time. The moves correspond with another Republican push to provide Ukraine with the long-range Army Tactical Missile System that Kyiv has asked for despite the Biden administration’s reluctance.
The top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, argued earlier this month that the White House’s latest Ukraine aid request was too low and that Biden should use the remaining amount of presidential drawdown authority before it expires.
“This confirms that the administration’s plan is not to give the Ukrainian Armed Forces what they need to win,” Inhofe told Defense News in a statement this week, after it became apparent that the White House might let the funding lapse.
A National Security Council spokesperson told Defense News that the $3.7 billion in drawdown authority the White House requested in the latest Ukraine aid package includes the unused $2.1 billion in question, per the advice of congressional appropriators. That means the White House had requested – and received – a total of $1.6 billion in additional drawdown authority for Ukraine in the latest aid package.
But Inhofe and his Republican allies would prefer that the Biden administration transfer at least $5.8 billion in weapons via drawdown authority to Ukraine – that is, the unused amount set to expire plus the new amount Congress is authorizing in its government funding bill.
“Ukraine needs more tanks, fighting vehicles, longer-range rockets, artillery and air defense systems, more HIMARS, more drones and preparatory training in western fighter aircraft,” McConnell said Thursday on the Senate floor. “Now is not the time for hesitating, hand-wringing or self-deterring from the administration.”
The long-range ATACMS, which are fired from the HIMARS that the United States has sent Kyiv, can fly as far as 186 miles. This is a considerably further than the 50-mile Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System that the White House has sent Ukraine for its HIMARS so far.
“The decision of what weapons systems we provide Ukraine are driven by Ukrainian needs on the battlefield as well as what’s available,” the National Security Council spokesperson told Defense News. “Additionally, we take into account escalation risks.”
The Biden administration remains wary that the Ukrainians could use the ATACMS to attack Russian territory, potentially sparking a broader conflict between Moscow and NATO. President Vladimir Putin last week threatened to use nuclear weapons if Russian territory, even lands annexed in a sham referendum, comes under attack.
The Pentagon has not ruled out sending ATACMS to Ukraine if the situation on the ground changes, but for now it views the 50-mile GMLARS as sufficient to ward off Russian forces given the Ukrainians’ rapid offensive this month in the country’s east.
The White House has backtracked on its reluctance to send Ukraine other systems before. For instance, the Biden administration had initially hesitated to send Ukraine HIMARS when the war broke out, only to change its mind in June and send them to Kyiv via drawdown authority.
The Defense Department on Wednesday announced and additional $1.1 billion in aid from the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative. That includes 18 additional HIMARS. But unlike presidential drawdown authority from existing U.S. stocks, aid from the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative takes several months or years to reach Kyiv because defense manufacturers must build the equipment.
Congress’ latest Ukraine aid package includes another $3 billion in funds for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative as well as $2.8 billion to bolster U.S. forces stationed in the European theater. It also appropriates $1.5 billion in funding to backfill U.S. stockpiles of weapons already sent to Ukraine, an amount that includes $540 million for critical munitions replenishment. Finally, it allocates another $4.5 billion in economic support for Kyiv.
Congress in March approved its first $13.6 billion Ukraine supplemental aid package. Lawmakers tripled that funding in May with a $40 billion package of military, economic and food aid for Ukraine and U.S. allies, which the White House says was designed to last through September. This third supplemental package will bring the total amount of aid to Ukraine that Congress has allocated so far this year to more than $65 billion.
Biden is expected to sign the continuing resolution, including the $12.35 billion in Ukraine aid, into law on Friday after the House votes to pass it.
Bryant Harris is the Congress reporter for Defense News. He has covered U.S. foreign policy, national security, international affairs and politics in Washington since 2014. He has also written for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.