Alaska U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan say they support additional military aid for both Israel and Ukraine, as support for Ukraine funding wanes among some of their Republican colleagues.
The U.S. House passed a Republican-backed bill on Thursday with more than $14 billion in supplemental funding for Israel’s war with Hamas, but without funding for Ukraine, despite requests from President Joe Biden to keep funding for Israel and Ukraine combined in a single package.
All but 12 House Democrats voted against the House bill, including Alaska Rep. Mary Peltola, citing a provision added to the bill by Republicans that would reduce funding for the Internal Revenue Service.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said Wednesday that the cuts to the IRS, which Republicans said were necessary for “fiscal responsibility,” would actually increase the deficit by $12.5 billion by reducing tax collections.
“Israel is a crucial ally for our country, which is why I can’t support making them a political pawn,” Peltola said in a statement Friday after voting against the bill, adding that the measure “makes aid for Israel conditional on a political scheme to help rich Americans dodge taxes, which will never pass with bipartisan support in the Senate.”
Peltola said House Republicans’ bill “sends a message to all our allies that America can’t be relied on.”
“I am in favor of offering consistent and effective aid to America’s allies, including Israel and Ukraine, and believe we should not be delaying the support they need in order to score political points. I will collaborate with the Senate on aid packages that can pass both chambers and genuinely assist our allies in their time of greatest need,” said Peltola.
In interviews last week, Murkowski and Sullivan both said they favored a spending package that includes military aid for Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan, along with a border security policy change to reduce the number of people crossing the border illegally.
That follows a plan proposed by the Biden administration last month. Biden put forward a $105 billion funding request, which included more than $60 billion for military and economic assistance for Ukraine; $14.3 billion for Israel’s defenses; $9 billion for humanitarian assistance in Israel, Gaza and Ukraine; $7.4 billion for security to support Taiwan and other allies in the Indo-Pacific; and $14 billion for border security operations in the U.S.
“We do not have the luxury of taking on one crisis at a time,” said Murkowski, echoing statements made by members of the Biden administration, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who appealed to Congress to pass billions of aid to Israel and Ukraine in a joint measure.
“I think there is room within what the president sent up to the Congress for us to move numbers around, take some things off, maybe add some things too, but I think that these four pillars are very important as part of the broad package going forward,” said Murkowski.
Republicans in Congress have been increasingly turning against aid to Ukraine, exposing a division within the party as some — including Murkowski and Sullivan — still say funding for Ukraine is vital to counter Russia.
Putin is “looking at what is happening in Israel. He is looking at what Hamas has done. And he’s saying this plays right into his hands. He is seeing that there’s a political softening of support for Ukraine as people have grown weary after a year plus,” said Murkowski.
“If we are distracted, if we can only focus on one thing, if we can’t walk and chew gum at the same time, that’s to his advantage,” Murkowski added. “There is so much entanglement that I do not believe we can decouple or we should even consider decoupling the support for Israel from the support for Ukraine.”
Sullivan also voiced support for military funding, but said that he views the inclusion of border security measures in the package as “the linchpin” to ensure Republican support.
“If you don’t do something serious on the border, to protect our southern border in this time of danger, you’re not going to get cooperation on anything,” he said.
Disagreements in Congress about the components of the funding package could lead to a prolonged showdown between the chambers. The Democrat-led Senate is not expected to take up the House package, instead crafting its own measure.
How the different components get packaged “is going to be the question,” said Sullivan. “What I think you’re going to see now is how that plays out between the House and the Senate and the White House.”
Republicans in turmoil
Over the negotiations hangs the deadline of Nov. 17. If the two chambers can’t agree on a plan to fund the government by then, the country could again face the threat of a shutdown — leaving thousands of federal employees to go without paychecks and some government functions to temporarily cease until the chambers can reach an agreement.
In September, Congress agreed to a last-minute temporary funding bill that averted a government shutdown, but also led hard-right Republicans to push for then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy to be deposed.
The new House speaker, right-wing Republican Mike Johnson of Louisiana, is open to funding for Ukraine, but not to the amount included in Biden’s package, he told Republican senators in a private meeting last week. Sullivan, who was at that meeting, said he came away thinking Johnson would work to prevent a shutdown.
“I don’t think government shutdowns help anyone at the end of the day. The new speaker said that he agrees with that,” said Sullivan. “A lot of this is not going to be necessarily in control of the Senate, but he seemed quite serious when he said that he didn’t think that a government shutdown would be helping anyone.”
Asked about the apparent division exposed within his own party on issues like government funding and Ukraine aid, Sullivan said such disagreements exist in both parties.
“This is about factions in both the House side, the Senate side, the Democrats and Republicans. I would not at all say that what’s holding this up is just Republican disagreements. This is the way it works in Congress. But there’s a lot of things that are increasingly dividing Democrats,” said Sullivan.
Murkowski was more critical of her own party, and the lingering uncertainty over House Republicans’ priorities after a prolonged battle over the speakership.
“Sometimes you can say, ‘Well, the problem with what’s going on in government or in Congress today is the other party,’ but sometimes I think we have to recognize that it may be members of our own party that are presenting challenges,” said Murkowski.
“I don’t think it reflected well on the Republican Party when Republicans effectively kicked out then Speaker (Kevin) McCarthy and they struggled for many days to select somebody to then fill that seat. I don’t think that showed the sense of unity that we would want to demonstrate as Republicans,” said Murkowski.
Murkowski said that the path to avoiding a government shutdown and putting together a supplemental funding package is “still an open question.”
“I wish that I could tell you that the potential for a shutdown on the 17th of November is no longer a threat because we have a new speaker over there. I can’t tell you that. We’re going to have to figure this out. It’s not easy,” said Murkowski. “I think it would be a little bit easier if we had greater certainty as to where the priorities are of the newly formed House leadership.”
Murkowski said that Alabama Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s monthslong hold on military confirmations, in opposition to a policy that allows military members to travel for abortion and fertility care, is another example of disunity among Republicans.
Sullivan, a colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve, led an effort along with other Senate Republicans on Wednesday to break Tuberville’s hold by calling up scores of pending promotions — out of more than 300 — one at a time on the Senate floor. However, Sullivan said he remains opposed to an initiative by Senate Democrats to either change or suspend Senate rules to sidestep Tuberville’s hold.
“My goal is to just have Republicans get to a point where we can resolve this ourselves,” said Sullivan.