Biden’s two-headed policy nightmare — Ukraine funding and border security

An increasingly number of lawmakers are calling for the two issues to be tied together in the next funding bill

Oct 5, 2023 - 19:54
Biden’s two-headed policy nightmare — Ukraine funding and border security

If we could pinpoint two major sources of anxiety in the West Wing this week, they’d probably rank like this:

1) Ukraine funding
1b) The southern border, which has managed to become even more of a headache for President Joe Biden as Blue state leaders pile on the pressure.

Both particularly messy issues came to a head this week, with a growing chorus of Republicans and Dems on the Hill suggesting the two issues be tied together in the next funding deal. And administration officials are in the early stages of mapping out the cleanest possible way to deal with both.

Biden administration officials have made calls this week to gauge interest among both Dems and Republicans for including border money and potential policy changes in the next funding deal, according to two people familiar with the discussions.

“In conversations with members, we advocate for the supplemental that President Biden sent to Congress and released to the public — not border policies that weren’t included in that proposal,” said deputy press secretary Andrew Bates in a statement. “The administration has been clear that Congress must act with a sense of urgency on both the border security funding the president has called for and aid to Ukraine, both of which are included in the supplemental. These priorities should not be conditioned on harmful border policies.”

The hope among Democrats is that if they can appease House Republicans with a substantial offering of border security, they can get enough of them on the board for more Ukraine money.

“There’s no time to waste. Time is not on our side. Combining [Ukraine funding] with border security is certainly something that needs to be discussed,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said Wednesday. “I think that’s one of the likely paths that we face given all the uncertainty and chaos over there.”

But the White House, publicly at least, has continued to insist that the two issues do not need to be codependent. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told White House reporters this week that both border security and additional Ukraine funding are “important,” noting that the White House included $4 billion in its supplemental for border security. But, he added: “We don’t — we don’t believe they need — they should be tied or one dependent on the other. But both are important.”

On the Hill, sentiments are different, especially among Republicans. Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), who backs more Ukraine aid, suggested Wednesday that pairing the two issues may be the only way to get Ukraine funding across the finish line.

Several Dems have also expressed support for border security funding, but Republicans have demanded policy changes along with the money, which could be harder to get Democratic support. Blumenthal argued there’s a way to thread that needle.

“There’s a point at which funding also means more rigorous enforcement and that may be viewed as a policy change,” he said.

It’s a high-stakes and challenging moment for the president, as a defining foreign policy achievement and major domestic policy challenge cross paths, with the resolution in part relying on a divided Congress and a House GOP without a selected speaker — not to mention a tight deadline to keep the government from shutting down.

“I think it’s a really tall order to think that what they’re going to come up with is going to be enough for House Republicans,” said one former Biden administration official.

Jennifer Haberkorn contributed to this report.

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