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Senate Foreign Relations Chair says funding for Israel, Ukraine is 'critical'

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Well, Congress has managed to pass a stopgap bill to keep the government open into the new year, but it does not include funding for Ukraine in its ongoing war to beat back Russia and maintain its independence. Without a must-pass bill to attach military aid to, it's unclear how a fractured and dysfunctional House can ever get such aid through, and now they've gone on break until after Thanksgiving. Senator Ben Cardin, a Democrat from Maryland and the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, is one of the lawmakers waiting on the House to get Ukraine funding to his chamber for a vote. Senator Cardin, welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

BEN CARDIN: Ailsa, it's good to be with you. It is absolutely critical that we get this supplemental appropriation bill done as quickly as possible.

CHANG: Yeah - 'cause I know that you presided over a hearing on the Hill last week about funding for Ukraine. What did you learn during that hearing about what the consequences might be if there is a funding delay?

CARDIN: Well, quite frankly, the cupboard is empty as far as dollars from the United States is concerned. So that - yes, Ukraine has resources that it can defend itself for a period of time. But we're going through the winter, and we have to plan for the next fighting season, which is the spring. They need to make sure they have predictable funding, not only for their military, but they can keep their government operating and provide essential services to their people. So it is absolutely critical for U.S. leadership to demonstrate its support for Ukraine by the passage of the supplemental appropriation. Now, that's one of four major parts of this supplemental. We also have Israel in the supplemental. We also have the Asia Pacific, with Taiwan.

CHANG: Yes.

CARDIN: And we also have humanitarian assistance.

CHANG: But let me ask you...

CARDIN: And it's a package.

CHANG: Right. It's a package. But strategically, what do you see as the best opportunity to get military funding through Congress? Because the next hard deadlines have now been pushed to 2024. So is it even possible to get any of this done before then?

CARDIN: Yeah. So I think what we need to do - and traditionally, the House moves first because of the constitutional provisions on tax bills. I think in this case, though, we could take a House vehicle and move first in the United States Senate. So I hope - because we have a working majority in the Senate, I think it would be helpful for the Senate to show the House where we are together, Democrats and Republicans, with a comprehensive supplemental appropriation bill that includes the four parts I mentioned. So yes, I'm hopeful that we can initiate action in the Senate within the next couple of weeks.

CHANG: Well, let's talk about the Senate because Senate Republicans are insisting that any package with Ukraine money in it must also include changes to the Biden administration's border security policies. And there is a bipartisan group working on some proposals, but could you accept border provisions in a bill with Ukraine funding?

CARDIN: Yes. I recognize the realities and the pragmatism of trying to get a bill done. And yes, as long as it's bipartisan, it's reasonable - we have challenges on our borders, so it's only right that we do things to protect our border. Quite frankly, President Biden's supplemental requests have funds in for the border. So I think there is room here for Democrats and Republicans to reach an agreement.

CHANG: And what about funding for Israel? Does funding for Israel need to stay tied to Ukraine money, or could Israel funding move on its own, you think?

CARDIN: No, I think it all should be one package. It really is a security issue that involves all the areas that are in the bill. We know, for example, that Iran is helping Russia in its security needs. Iran is the enabler of Hamas in the Middle East. So there are connectors here between what's happening in Russia and what's happening in the Middle East. We know China is watching this very closely. Taiwan is an important security issue as well. We should keep the package together.

CHANG: Well, at that hearing on the Hill last week, you called on the U.S. to continue funding Ukraine as a way to strengthen credibility with this country's allies. What are you hearing from our allies? Is this funding delay hurting our international reputation, you think?

CARDIN: Well, Europe is moving forward with a funding package for Ukraine. But, quite frankly, they're doing that based upon the hope that America's leadership will still be there. So it's absolutely critical. They can't make it without the U.S. leadership, and we also need the support of our allies. So it is essential that we move a Ukrainian bill as quickly as possible.

CHANG: That is Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland. Thank you so much for joining us again.

CARDIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Gabriel J. Sánchez
Gabriel J. Sánchez is a producer for NPR's All Things Considered. Sánchez identifies stories, books guests, and produces what you hear on air. Sánchez also directs All Things Considered on Saturdays and Sundays.
Sarah Handel
Ailsa Chang
Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.