By Donald Judd, Manu Raju, Ryan Nobles and Alex Rogers, CNN
President Joe Biden called on Congress to “immediately” pass a nearly $40 billion Ukrainian aid bill, warning for the first time that existing aid will run out in “approximately ten days.”
“Get it to my desk in the next few days,” Biden said in a statement.
Biden had urged Congress to pass $10 billion in additional pandemic relief funding and the massive new assistance to Ukraine in the same bill.
But he said on Monday that congressional leaders told him to decouple the effort in order to quicken the aid to Ukraine. Biden initially requested $33 billion to help Ukraine as it fights Russia, but Congress has proposed billions more for food aid and military equipment.
Democrats are now expected to move Ukraine and Covid-19 relief aid separately, starting in the House, as soon as this week.
“We cannot afford delay in this vital war effort,” Biden said in the statement. “Hence, I am prepared to accept that these two measures move separately, so that the Ukrainian aid bill can get to my desk right away.”
Senate Republicans had insisted on the two issues moving on separate legislative tracks. In April, Senate Republicans blocked an effort to take up a $10 billion Covid relief bill over demands for votes on amendments, including one targeting the Biden administration’s decision to lift a Trump-era order known as Title 42, which allowed US border officials to turn migrants back to Mexico or their home countries immediately because of the public health crisis.
South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the number two Senate Republican, said that the Senate could consider both packages next week.
Thune said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has signaled he’s open to allowing an amendment vote on the Title 42 provision, paving the way to take up the $10 billion Covid-19 relief bill. A Schumer spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Thune said the Covid-19 bill “is going to be considered a different time.”
“I’m hearing now that Schumer is open to a Title 42 amendment, which perhaps, maybe tees that vote up at some point,” Thune added.
The White House did not want the Ukraine package bogged down in Congress even though Democrats had been pushing to tie the two together over fears that Republicans would set back the US response to the pandemic.
In Monday’s statement, Biden wrote he was “pleased” that “there appears to be strong support” from a bipartisan majority in Congress to provide aid to Ukraine.
But he again stressed the importance of spending even more resources addressing the pandemic. The administration recently projected that the US could potentially see 100 million Covid-19 infections this fall and winter.
“As vital as it is to help Ukraine combat Russian aggression, it is equally vital to help Americans combat COVID,” Biden said.
“Without timely COVID funding, more Americans will die needlessly,” he added. “We will lose our place in line for America to order new COVID treatments and vaccines for the fall, including next-generation vaccines under development, and be unable to maintain our supply of COVID tests.”
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CNN’s Clare Foran contributed to this report.