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Anti-War Protest at US Congress Hearing As Biden Officials Ask for Israel, Ukraine Aid

Two of President Joe Biden’s top advisers asked U.S. lawmakers to provide billions more dollars to Israel on Tuesday at a congressional hearing interrupted repeatedly by protesters accusing American officials of backing “genocide” against Palestinians in Gaza.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin testified to the Senate Appropriations Committee on Biden’s request for $106 billion to fund ambitious plans for Ukraine, Israel and U.S. border security.

Arguing that supporting U.S. partners is vital to national security, Biden requested $61.4 billion for Ukraine, about half of which would be spent in the United States to replenish weapons stocks drained by previous support for Kyiv.

Biden also asked for $14.3 billion for Israel, $9 billion for humanitarian relief — including for Israel and Gaza — $13.6 billion for U.S. border security, $4 billion in military assistance and government financing to counter China’s regional efforts in Asia.

As the hearing began, a line of protesters raised red-stained hands in the air as an anti-war protest. Capitol police later removed them from the hearing room after they shouted protests including, “Ceasefire now!” and “Protect the children of Gaza!”

Blinken said U.S. support for Ukraine has made Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “a strategic debacle” and stressed the importance of both security assistance for Israel and humanitarian aid for Palestinians in Gaza.

“Without swift and sustained humanitarian relief, the conflict is much more likely to spread, suffering will grow, and Hamas and its sponsors will benefit by fashioning themselves as the saviors of the very desperation they created,” Blinken said.

Congress has already approved $113 billion for Ukraine since Russia invaded in February 2022, but Biden’s $24 billion request for more funds in August never moved ahead. The White House has said it has less than $5.5 billion in funds to continue transferring weapons from U.S. stockpiles to Ukrainian forces fighting Russia.

Republicans divided

The path forward for Biden’s latest funding plan looks uncertain. Democrats solidly back Biden’s strategy of combining Ukraine aid with support for Israel, as do many Republicans in both the Senate and House of Representatives.

“We need to address all of these priorities as part of one package – because the reality is these issues are all connected, and they are all urgent,” Senate Appropriations Committee Chairperson Patty Murray said.

Senator Susan Collins, the committee’s top Republican said she would judge the funding request on whether it makes the United States more secure.

But Republicans who lead the House of Representatives object to combining the two issues, joined by a smaller number of party members in the Senate. Opinion polls show public support for Ukraine aid declining and many Republicans, particularly those most closely aligned with former President Donald Trump, have come out against it.

With federal spending fueled by $31.4 trillion in debt, they question whether Washington should be funding Ukraine’s war with Russia, rather than backing Israel or boosting efforts to push back against a rising China.

Newly elected House Speaker Mike Johnson has voted in the past against assistance for Kyiv. On Monday, he introduced a bill to provide $14.3 billion in aid to Israel by cutting funding for the Internal Revenue Service, setting up a showdown with Senate Democrats.

Johnson became speaker after a three-week stalemate in the House after former Speaker Kevin McCarthy was ousted partly because he worked with Democrats to pass a government funding bill.

Biden’s support for Israel, which already receives $3.8 billion in annual U.S. military assistance, has drawn criticism amid international appeals for Gaza civilians to be protected.

Palestinian authorities say that Israel’s “total siege” of Gaza since that rampage has killed more than 8,300 people, more than 3,400 of them minors, and left a dire need for fuel, food and clean water.

Israel this week launched a ground offensive in the Gaza Strip as it strikes back at Islamist Hamas militants who killed 1,400 people and took at least 240 hostages in a rampage on Oct. 7.

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