Mitch McConnell offered a strong endorsement on Sunday of the Joe Biden White House’s $106bn aid proposal to Israel and Ukraine, saying he and the president were essentially “in the same place” on the issue.
McConnell, the powerful Republican leader in the Senate, also rebuffed some of his GOP colleagues in the Senate who have called for a package separating assistance for the two countries, saying it would be “a mistake” during an interview on CBS’s Face the Nation.
The Republican leader offered significant backing to the White House’s $106bn request, including $14bn in assistance to Israel, $60bn in aid to Ukraine and another $14bn to improve security on the US Mexico border. An additional $10bn would be allocated to humanitarian relief as well as an additional $7bn to the Indio-Pacific region.
Nine Republican senators wrote a letter to McConnell on Thursday saying that Ukraine and Israel aid should not be paired together. “These are two separate conflicts and it would be wrong to leverage support of aid to Israel in an attempt to get additional aid for Ukraine across the finish line,” the group wrote.
“I view it as all interconnected,” he said during the interview. “If you look at the Ukraine assistance, let’s – let’s talk about where the money is really going. A significant portion of it’s being spent in the United States in 38 different states, replacing the weapons that we sent to Ukraine with more modern weapons. So we’re rebuilding our industrial base,” he said.
He added: “No Americans are getting killed in Ukraine. We’re rebuilding our industrial base. The Ukrainians are destroying the army of one of our biggest rivals. I have a hard time finding anything wrong with that. I think it’s wonderful that they’re defending themselves.”
During a speech to the nation on Thursday, Biden also made his case for why the two issues were connected. The president said Hamas and the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, “represent different threats, but they share this in common: they both want to completely annihilate a neighboring democracy – completely annihilate it.
“If we walk away and let Putin erase Ukraine’s independence, would-be aggressors around the world would be emboldened to try the same. The risk of conflict and chaos could spread in other parts of the world – in the Indo-Pacific, in the Middle East, especially in the Middle East.”
The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, also said on Sunday that Israel had restored some water and power access to Gaza.
“Israel turned on one of the pipelines six or seven days ago – there are a couple of other pipelines that we’d like to see restored,” the US’s top diplomat said during an interview on NBC’s Meet the Press.
Blinken also noted that 20 trucks that were recently allowed in to Gaza provided clean water, saying: “We’re getting more that we hope will be moving as early as today.
“We do have concerns about the spread of disease as a result of people drinking dirty water,” he said. “This is a work in progress. It’s something we’re at all the time.”
Blinken also said Israel had no intention of governing Gaza long term after the war.
“Israel cannot go back to the status quo,” he told NBC. “At the same time, what I’ve heard from the Israelis is absolutely no intent – no desire to be running Gaza themselves. They moved out of Gaza unilaterally, unconditionally a couple of decades ago. But they can’t be in a position where they’re constantly under threat of the most horrific terrorist attacks coming from Gaza. So, something needs to be found that ensures that Hamas cannot do this again, but that also does not revert to Israeli governance of Gaza, which they do not want and do not intend to do.”
While McConnell backed Biden’s aid plan, he did not offer support for Jack Lew, whose nomination to be ambassador to Israel has been held up by Republicans. McConnell said: “He is a very controversial nominee because of his relationship with the Iran nuclear deal, which was opposed by everybody in my party.”
The 81-year-old senator also dismissed a question from CBS’s Margaret Brennan about whether there was more that should be disclosed about his health after multiple cases in which he froze up while speaking in public. “I’m in good shape, completely recovered and back on the job,” he said. He also said he was “concerned” about increasing threats of violence members of Congress have received.
Additionally, McConnell said the US House needed to fill its vacant speakership before 17 November, when funding for the government is set to expire. “We need one because the House can’t do anything without a speaker,” he said. “And it’s a – it’s a problem, but I hope it’s gonna get solved pretty quickly.”
Both Blinken and the defense secretary, Lloyd Austin, on Sunday said the US expected the Israel-Hamas war to escalate through involvement by proxies of Iran. They asserted that the Biden administration was prepared to respond if American personnel or armed forces become the target of any such hostilities.
“This is not what we want, not what we’re looking for. We don’t want escalation,” Blinken said. “We don’t want to see our forces or our personnel come under fire. But if that happens, we’re ready for it.”
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