Congress comes back into session next week with a problem: how to help Ukraine. They also have to come up with a government funding bill—the current funding resolution expires on March 11—and the Senate will be moving forward with President Joe Biden’s Supreme Court nominee, Ketanji Brown Jackson.
With Putin’s invasion of Ukraine a done deal, what Congress can do in the ponderous process it takes to get anything done is a big question; their response could just come too late. The Biden administration has already imposed harsh sanctions, with additional and very unusual sanctions explicitly against Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced Friday.
As of now, congressional leaders say they’ll be guided by what the White House asks for. “We will work hand in hand with the administration. If they need something sooner, we’ll deliver something sooner,” House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA) said Thursday. “But I’m very confident that both parties understand the importance of providing assistance to Ukraine and to our NATO allies. And we will do that as promptly as necessary.”
That assistance at this point could come in the form of a supplement funding bill of at last $10 billion, “the majority of which would go toward humanitarian aid to address the impending refugee crisis in Europe” according to what Politico learned from Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), chair of the State Department and foreign operations appropriations subcommittee.
Republicans agree, but are going to be more hawkish on the U.S. joining the war. “If we are not doing everything possible, we are not doing enough,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). “Time is not on our side.”
House Armed Services Chair Adam Smith (D-WA) is cautious about providing any lethal military aid. “I don’t think it’s realistic to think that we’re going to be able to reinforce [Ukraine] enough in the short-term to repel the invasion,” Smith said. “We do need to try and help them as much as possible, and it is quite possible that what we’re looking at here is a more long-term insurgency.”
Some military aid has already been provided to Ukraine from the U.S. Last month, the Pentagon sent $200 million in ammunition, equipment, and anti-armor missiles. Biden has also ordered about 6,000 troops to eastern European NATO members to protect their borders with Ukraine.
Graham has one idea that Democrats actually should jump on: “the creation of a task force to target Russian oligarchs worldwide, many of whom have enriched themselves from their closeness with Putin.” Many of the Russian oligarchs have also dabbled in Republican politics in the U.S., funneling millions into supporting not just Donald Trump but a number of top Republican leaders.
Like that big investment from a sanctioned Russian oligarch—Oleg Deripaska—in Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s home state of Kentucky, an investment that was only possible thanks to sanctions against the company’s owner being lifted, with McConnell’s support.
Now would be a really smart time for Democrats in Congress to bring up an anti-corruption bill from Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Pramila Jayapal. Among other things, the bill would ban foreign lobbying and “disrupt the system of dark money for influence that allows the wealthy, well-connected, and foreign actors to tilt the political process in their favor.” It’d be great timing to put Republicans on the spot since they are all being dragged kicking and screaming to be anti-Russian.
In the meantime, Congress will be working to get an aid package together. Rep. Barbara Lee, a senior House Appropriations Committee member, told Politico that the administration has told lawmakers that “there is a need over the next twelve months of at least $1 billion for humanitarian needs.”
Whether it comes as an emergency supplemental bill, or is tied into the omnibus spending bill Congress has to pass by March 11 isn’t yet clear. It would be a smart move for Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to tie the two together—it’s the one thing that might make Republicans finally agree to allowing this year’s budget to pass.