Congressional leaders in the United States have agreed on a $13.6bn aid package for Ukraine, whose forces have battling invading Russian forces for more than two weeks, along with passing legislation to ban US imports of Russian oil in response to the war.
The House of Representatives on Wednesday also approved, with bipartisan support, an “omnibus” $1.5 trillion bill to keep US government programmes operating through September 30, sending the legislation to the Senate, which aims to act by the deadline at midnight on Friday, when existing US government funds expire.
Keep readinglist of 4 items
The aid package for Ukraine is more than the $10bn the White House requested last week from Congress.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi indicated that the $13.6bn, which allocates roughly $6.5bn to the Pentagon for military assistance and about $6.7bn to care for refugees and provide economic aid to allies, is likely to be just the start of a much broader aid effort.
“All of us will have to do more” to help Ukraine in coming weeks or months and over the long-term to help it rebuild, Pelosi told reporters, mainly referring to the US and its NATO allies.
Pelosi said she had had a 45-minute conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy Wednesday, during which they discussed the weapons and other assistance his country needs and “the crimes against humanity that Putin is committing”, including an air raid on a hospital in the besieged city of Mariupol.
“This is the beast that Putin is,” Pelosi said.
In a largely symbolic move, the House also approved the bill to ban imports of Russian oil and other energy by a vote of 414-17, one day after Biden used his executive powers to impose the measure.
The House vote put lawmakers on record as firmly supporting the trade ban – fifteen Republicans and two Democrats opposed it. It also calls for reviewing Russia’s participation in some international trade programmes, such as the World Trade Organization.
Lawmakers abandoned an effort to attach language revoking Russia’s permanent normal trade relations status, which would have allowed the US to raise tariffs on Russian imports above levels afforded all WTO members.
Meanwhile, the US government funding bill passed following a revolt from Pelosi’s own Democrats who objected to a $15.6bn COVID-19 aid initiative because of the way it would have parceled out money to individual states. The money was to be used for research and to stockpile vaccines for possible future spikes in COVID infections.
Following hours of delay, Pelosi had the provision deleted to clear the way for quick passage of the Ukraine money and the omnibus $1.5 trillion federal funding.
Democrats hope to revisit the COVID aid next week in separate legislation.