House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer on Thursday gave lawmakers the weekend off, despite bipartisan calls for immediate congressional action on an emergency aid package for Ukraine.
Even some of Mrs. Pelosi’s and Mr. Schumer’s fellow Democrats were outraged, especially with Ukraine struggling to stave off collapse in the face of a multipronged Russian invasion.
“We need to pass it today. … They need to call us back in, and those who can’t come back can vote remotely, but we’ve got to pass it,” said Rep. Ro Khanna, California Democrat. “Every day, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians are dying. Today, there was a photograph of a father holding the body of his dead teenage son. It’s horrific. The least we can do is provide them with a fighting chance with weapons.”
The sense of urgency escalated during the day as Ukrainian cities were bombarded from the sky and Russian troops surrounded the capital of Kyiv.
The Ukrainian government was still standing, but military analysts warned that the situation could be unsustainable without a massive infusion of weapons and humanitarian aid.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said during a televised press conference that what he needs most is the establishment of a no-fly zone over his country and weapons to offset the advantages of the well-equipped Russian forces.
“If you do not have the power to close the skies, then give me planes,” he said.
The White House, while refusing to support a no-fly zone, responded to the deteriorating situation by nearly doubling to $10 billion the amount of emergency aid it hopes to send.
Congressional leadership will wait until at least next week to pass the aid package.
Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, said the timeline was necessary because the aid funding will be included in a yearlong budget deal that needs to pass by March 11.
“It’s the fastest thing,” she said. “It’s the vehicle that’s leaving the station.”
Lawmakers in both parties disputed the speaker’s characterization and called for immediate passage of a stand-alone aid package.
“These people are taking a stand for freedom, boldly demonstrating that freedom is worth fighting for,” Rep. Victoria Spartz, an Indiana Republican who grew up in Ukraine, wrote in a letter to Mrs. Pelosi this week. “By working together to craft this stand-alone package, we can send a clear message to the world that our nation will not tolerate tyranny in any form.”
Pelosi and Schumer allies say a stand-alone aid bill is not needed because the White House has the authority to act.
“The president is already moving through his executive authority to send weapons and to send humanitarian aid,” said House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, Washington Democrat. “A lot of this money is going to be backfilling what we’ve already done, and then there will be more going forward.”
Other lawmakers contend that Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Schumer are purposely delaying Ukrainian aid and adding it to the yearlong budget deal to make that bill more palatable to Republicans.
The federal government is operating with funding levels approved by Congress under President Trump. Abiding by Trump-era budget levels has hamstrung efforts to move Mr. Biden’s agenda through the federal bureaucracy.
Democrats say a budget deal is the only way Mr. Biden can begin to make his mark on the government. Such a deal needs at least 10 Republican supporters in the evenly split Senate to overcome a filibuster, but that coalition has been difficult to forge.
Republicans, in particular, have raised concerns about parity between domestic and military spending as well Democratic efforts to scrap prohibitions on federal funding for abortion.
“It’s not rocket science,” said a Democratic aide on the House Appropriations Committee, who requested anonymity when discussing the matter. “Leadership wants to get a budget done, and no Republican wants to be seen as leaving Ukraine hanging as it fights Russian imperialism.”
Mr. Biden initially asked lawmakers last week to approve $6.4 billion for weapons and humanitarian assistance.
Shalanda Young, acting director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, said Mr. Biden wants lawmakers to support a $10 billion package.
“These resources will mean additional defense equipment for Ukraine, lifesaving humanitarian assistance — such as emergency food assistance — for the Ukrainian people, stronger sanctions enforcement, a dedicated task force led by the Department of Justice to go after the ill-gotten gains and other illicit activities of the Russian oligarchs, and additional support for U.S troop deployments to neighboring countries,” Mrs. Young said.
About $4.8 billion is earmarked for U.S. troop deployments to NATO countries bordering Ukraine. The deployments are precautionary measures intended to discourage Russian President Vladimir Putin from expanding the scope of his military aggression.
Part of the money would go to arming the besieged Ukrainians with more military equipment to fend off the Russians.
Similarly, $5 billion is being requested so the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development can provide security, economic and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine and neighboring NATO allies. More than half of that sum, roughly $2.75 billion, is earmarked toward providing food and support for Ukrainian refugees and others displaced by the war.
Administration officials say the money also would help push back on Russian cyberattacks and disinformation campaigns. Some of the money would be used to strengthen Ukraine’s electrical grid to ensure the country can continue fighting Russian aggression.
The White House has not ruled out asking Congress for more aid money if the situation in Ukraine deteriorates further.
“This funding request is based on the administration’s best information on resource requirements at this time, and we will remain in touch with the Congress in the coming weeks and months as we assess resource requirements beyond these immediate needs,” Mrs. Young said.