Democrats set up clash with GOP by pairing Covid relief with Ukraine aid


Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill are set for a showdown over Covid-19 relief that threatens to hold up desperately needed aid to Ukraine as the country fights back against Russia’s invasion.

House Democrats plan to introduce a massive bill as soon as Tuesday that would extend government funding through the end of September – and include roughly $10 billion to help bolster Ukraine, according to two Democratic sources. But they are setting up a clash with Republicans over Covid relief money expected to be included in the sweeping package.

Negotiations will take place this week to try to secure a deal to pass the bill before a March 11 deadline when government funding expires. Lawmakers are expected to avoid a shutdown, but if a broad funding package doesn’t move quickly, they may be forced to pass another short-term stopgap funding measure.

One Democratic source familiar with the matter said Sunday that Covid relief money will be included in the package – a move that would dare Republicans to block a package that includes money for Ukraine. While aid to Ukraine is a pressing priority with bipartisan support, Republicans are widely opposed to more Covid relief money, arguing that a full accounting of already allocated funds is needed before there’s any further spending.

The crisis in Ukraine has sparked intense concern across both parties, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told US lawmakers on Saturday that his country urgently needs more assistance from the US. American officials on Sunday identified three areas on which the US could soon take action in an attempt to address Russia’s intensifying war: a ban on Russian oil imports, a declaration of war crimes against Russia and help facilitating delivery of Polish fighter jets to Ukraine.

The White House has asked lawmakers to approve $10 billion in lethal and humanitarian aid for Ukraine as part of a $32.5 billion emergency funding request sent to Capitol Hill.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi highlighted the $10 billion request from the administration in a letter to House Democrats Sunday evening, saying the chamber intends to pass the emergency funding. Pelosi added that the House is also pursuing legislation to “ban the import of Russian oil and energy products into the United States, repeal normal trade relations with Russia and Belarus, and take the first step to deny Russia access to the WTO (World Trade Organization).”

But Democrats are also focused on securing more funding to respond to the ongoing pandemic.

The White House has requested $22.5 billion in “immediate needs” related to the pandemic response, including funding for treatments, testing and vaccines, as well as money for work to protect against future variants and efforts to vaccinate more people globally.

Republicans are already pushing back against the administration’s request for more Covid money.

Senate GOP Whip John Thune said on Thursday that there’s strong opposition within the GOP conference to the request for $22.5 billion in additional Covid funds.

“I think there’s just a general belief that there’s a lot of money out there still floating around,” Thune, of South Dakota, said. “And that before we put more out, we need to get an accounting for that. And I think that includes even people who otherwise might be inclined to support some of the things that would be included there.”

In order for the bill to pass the Senate and avoid a shutdown before the March 11 deadline, all 100 senators must consent to set up a final vote. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Sunday he wants to see the bill pass his chamber by Thursday.

“The negotiations on the spending bill are going very, very well,” Schumer, a New York Democrat, said Sunday, adding that he’s “hopeful and optimistic” the chamber can pass the spending bill including Ukraine aid by Thursday.

But it’s unclear if they will get the bill passed by then given that many Republicans are opposed to adding Covid relief money into the package, while other Republicans are demanding adequate time to review the sprawling measure once it is introduced.

In a letter to Schumer last week, a group of Republican senators led by Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Rick Scott of Florida raised concerns about inflation and the national debt and called for “a comprehensive review” of a finalized bill by the Congressional Budget Office as well as “appropriate time” for senators to review a finished package.

Negotiations over the timing of votes are expected to begin later this week.

If there’s no deal in the Senate to set up a final vote, or if Democrats lack 60 votes to overcome a filibuster, then they may have to cut yet another deal to pass a short-term stopgap to avoid a shutdown.