WASHINGTON The White House has waived $ 250 million in military aid to Ukraine after weeks of bipartisan pressure from lawmakers who said the funding was needed to deter Russia.
Republican and Democratic members of the Senate Appropriations Committee said on Thursday that the administration caved in on Wednesday night. The news emerged during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on fiscal 2020 defense spending.
President Donald Trump’s initial grip angered some lawmakers who are generally his allies, including Republican Senator from South Carolina Lindsey Graham, who chairs the Senate Spending Subcommittee of the State Department.
“I’ll be the loudest voice here if they don’t release the [2020 military aid]Graham said.
It was the White House’s Office of Management and Budget that lifted the stranglehold, which applied to both the Pentagon’s $ 250 million Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative and the 141 , $ 5 million in foreign military funding prepared separately by the State Department, according to congressional sources.
âA lot of congressmen wanted the money released,â said Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Jim Risch, R-Idaho, another Trump ally. “I had a lot of discussions with the administration about this, but they were between me and the administration – the chief administrator to be exact.”
Senator Richard Durbin, Senate Democrat No.2 and chairman of the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, speculated that an amendment he planned to propose on Thursday on the issue forced the administration to get their hands on the money, which Congress approved in the FY19 budget.
“Why are you holding this back? This is vital funding for a country fighting one of our enemies in the world, âsaid Durbin.
Relations between Ukraine and Russia collapsed in 2014 after Moscow annexed the Ukrainian peninsula from Crimea and relied on separatist fighters in eastern Ukraine.
Oklahoma Republican Senator James Lankford defended administration deliberation given the election of new Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky, whose US allegiance was initially in question . Lankford, however, expressed support for US aid in Ukraine’s fight against Russia and felt the Trump administration had taken too long.
“It was quite reasonable that the United States had spent a few months getting to know him and his administration,” Lankford said, adding that he had recently visited Kiev for the same purpose. “I think we should have gone faster, but there was due diligence, and the administration has been active in trying to get deadly aid to the Ukrainians in the past.”
Speaking at a Defense Writers Group event Thursday, R. Clarke Cooper, Assistant Secretary of State for Politico-Military Affairs, announced that Congress was told on Wednesday evening that funding of $ 141.5 million dollars was available for Ukraine. This money covers sniper rifles, grenade launchers, and other items.
Aaron Mehta contributed to this report.
Joe Gould is the Congressional and Industry reporter for Defense News, covering budget and defense policy issues on Capitol Hill as well as industry news.