President Joe Biden brushed aside fears that further US aid to Kyiv could be stymied by Republicans on Capitol Hill, as he touted Washington’s “unwavering support” for Ukraine in a press conference with UK prime minister Rishi Sunak.
Responding to a question from the Financial Times, Biden said he believed the US would “have the funding necessary to support Ukraine as long as it takes . . . even though you hear some voices today on Capitol Hill about whether or not we should continue to support Ukraine and for how long”.
His comments came after Kevin McCarthy, the Republican House speaker, cast doubt on whether he would endorse a separate funding bill for Ukraine assistance and other military spending. Supplemental legislation will probably be needed later this year to maintain strong US support for Ukraine as the $45bn for the country enacted late last year starts to run out. A government spending cap imposed in the recent deal to raise the debt ceiling did not allocate money specifically for Ukraine.
“I’m not going to prejudge what some of them [in the Senate] do, but if they think they’re writing a supplemental [spending bill] because they want to go around an agreement we just made, it’s not going anywhere,” McCarthy told Punchbowl News.
McCarthy’s stance is at odds with a number of Senate Republicans and many Democrats who think the additional Pentagon funding legislation will be needed. If it is not agreed, lawmakers have to cut military spending elsewhere to boost Ukraine aid — which could turn it into a far more fraught process.
As well as discussing more short-term needs related to Ukraine, which is embarking on a counter-offensive to reclaim territory occupied by Russian troops, Sunak has also called for allies to put in place longer-term security arrangements for the country’s defence. But the White House has been cautious about making specific commitments.
“We’re advancing this goal by providing them with support that Ukraine needs now on the battlefield, and helping them strengthen their military over the long term,” Biden said.
Ahead of the next Nato summit in Lithuania in July, Biden left open the possibility that Ben Wallace, Britain’s defence secretary, could be the next head of Nato, although he did not give a ringing endorsement.
Asked if it was time for a British secretary-general, he said: “Maybe. That remains to be seen.”
Biden said there would have to be a consensus within the organisation about a new leader.
“They have a candidate who is a very qualified individual, but we’re [going to] have a lot of discussion between us at Nato to determine what the outcome of that would be.”
The new Nato secretary-general will take up the role next year after Jens Stoltenberg, the incumbent, steps down after nearly a decade in the role. Stoltenberg is due to visit Washington early next week.
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