© Reuters. U.S. President Joe Biden speaks at a Human Rights Campaign dinner at the Washington Convention Center in Washington, U.S., October 14, 2023. REUTERS/Ken Cedeno/File Photo
By Steve Holland, Jarrett Renshaw and Trevor Hunnicutt
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Joe Biden launched an urgent mission on Thursday to get Americans to fund billions of dollars more in spending on Israel and Ukraine, using a rare Oval Office speech to say that U.S. support is critical for the two major allies engaged in wars.
Biden tried to link Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip who attacked Israel with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose troops invaded Ukraine.
“Hamas and Putin pose different threats, but they have one thing in common: they both want to destroy a neighboring democracy,” he 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 attacks from Gaza and killed 1,400 people in southern Israel.
Biden’s message contained a certain urgency. Israel is poised to launch a ground offensive to eradicate Palestinian Hamas militants from Gaza, with tensions at a peak after a deadly explosion at a Gaza hospital.
Biden said Israel was not responsible for the explosion, as Hamas officials had claimed, but said: “We cannot ignore the humanity of innocent Palestinians who just want to live in peace and have opportunity.”
Biden expressed concern that some Americans are asking, “Why does it matter to America” that the United States supports the wars?
“I know these conflicts can seem far away,” he said.
But he said America’s adversaries are watching how both conflicts unfold and, depending on the outcome, they could cause unrest elsewhere in the world.
The US president spoke against a backdrop of political chaos in Washington as Republicans who control the House of Representatives struggle to agree on who will lead them as speaker after ousting Kevin McCarthy from the post.
Biden called for emergency spending that U.S. officials say will be about $100 billion next year for Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan, as well as security along the porous U.S. border with Mexico.
Sources said that could include $60 billion for Ukraine and $10 billion for Israel, as well as billions for border security in Asia and the United States.
By combining the priorities into one package, Biden is testing whether Republican lawmakers can be persuaded to put aside their opposition and agree to spending on Ukraine, whose 20-month war with Russia has already devoured billions of dollars in U.S. weapons no end in sight.
Any funding measure must pass both the Democratic-led U.S. Senate, where the additional aid has bipartisan support, and the Republican-led House of Representatives, which has not had a speaker in 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.
Republican lawmakers in the House of Representatives have brought the government to a near standstill in recent weeks over chronic budget deficits and $31.4 trillion in debt and have threatened to cut 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 if given a range of options. Almost half said Americans should remain neutral or not get involved.
In a separate Reuters/Ipsos poll earlier this month, roughly the same share agreed that Washington “should provide arms to Ukraine.”
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