Senate Democrats are considering pairing emergency military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine with a stalled $10 billion coronavirus package.
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, is reportedly eyeing the maneuver as a way to thwart Republicans and secure passage of the coronavirus package.
Republicans have blocked consideration of the $10 billion legislation over the White House’s proposal to end Title 42 — a pandemic emergency order blocking illegal aliens from entering the U.S.
“Everyone wants to show they are strong on Russia right now, especially Republicans given all of [former President Donald] Trump’s issues,” a senior aide to Democratic leadership said on condition of anonymity. “If push comes to shove, the GOP won’t dare to block money for Ukraine’s survival over some extraneous immigration issue.”
Democrats believe that by tying emergency aid for Ukraine to the $10 billion coronavirus bill they can pressure Republicans to vote for both promptly. Although an official decision has yet to be made, Mr. Schumer is hopeful the Senate can move on both measures soon.
“I expect both sides to work with swift bipartisan cooperation to get it done,” the majority leader said.
Such talk comes as Democrats return from a two-week recess eager to overcome GOP obstacles to additional coronavirus funding. The $10 billion package, which includes money for COVID-19 testing sites and booster shots, was negotiated along bipartisan lines earlier this month.
The legislation appeared on a glide path until Mr. Biden announced plans to revoke Title 42, arguing that the coronavirus was receding. Mr. Biden’s decision set off a swift backlash among Republicans and moderate Democrats.
Senate Republicans, in particular, moved to block consideration of the coronavirus funding deal. In exchange for allowing the bill to advance, GOP lawmakers demanded a simple majority vote on an amendment blocking the White House from canceling the immigration order.
“Democrats actually want Congress to approve more funding specifically because COVID is not finished,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. “The Biden administration’s official position is that the pandemic is over for illegal immigrants but not for the American people.”
Mr. Schumer refused to allow a vote on the amendment, forcing Republicans to block the bill outright. The majority leader’s decision was mainly political.
Nearly a half-dozen Democratic senators have pushed back on Mr. Biden’s decision to rescind Title 42, meaning an amendment on the topic is likely to pass easily and with bipartisan support.
“This is such a serious crisis that even a number of Democrats are turning against the president,” said Sen. John Barrasso, Wyoming Republican. “A lot of them are people who are running for reelection. They know that … eliminating Title 42 is not just unsafe for the nation, it’s also very unpopular.”
The amendment’s inclusion, if successful, would also likely prove to be a poison pill for the overall package within the House.
Several far-left Democrats within that chamber are already undecided about the measure because it does not include $5 billion for global vaccine distribution.
“A lot of the success that we can have in crushing COVID-19 is making sure we understand that this is a global issue, just like the climate,” said Rep. Rashida Tlaib, Michigan Democrat.
Since the Democratic divisions could wind up tanking the entire deal, Mr. Schumer is hoping to strong-arm Republicans into dropping their demands. At the moment, the only option appears to be by linking the coronavirus funding to military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine.
The timing could prove to be a problem, however, if Democrats opt to pursue the tactic.
White House officials have warned that Ukraine’s efforts to stave off Russian aggression significantly depend on the rapid flow of aid. For that to continue, lawmakers say Congress will have to act swiftly, something that is unassured if Mr. Schumer chooses to bind coronavirus funding to emergency military aid.
“I support a package to address continued research and investment and therapeutics and vaccinations that we need for COVID … but I also think it’s very important to get this aid out to Ukraine as quickly as possible,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, New Hampshire Democrat.
• Haris Alic can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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