• Associated Press

Biden Calls GOP Holdup of Ukraine Aid ‘Close to Criminal Neglect’ as He Meets with Germany’s Scholz

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
President Joe Biden, right, crosses his fingers in response to a comment from German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in the Oval Office of the White House, Friday, Feb. 9, 2024, in Washington.

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden said Friday that a Republican holdup on sending new U.S. aid to Ukraine for its war with Russia was “close to criminal neglect” as he huddled with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz about U.S. and Europe’s efforts to maintain support for Kyiv.

The U.S. president made his comments as Scholz amplified growing concerns in Europe about the standoff between the Democratic president and House Republicans on Ukraine funding. American officials have said that the inability to come to terms on a new aid package is endangering Ukraine’s efforts to repel the nearly two-year Russian invasion.

“Without the support of United States, and without the support of the European states, Ukraine will have not a chance to defend its own country,” Scholz said.

Scholz came to Washington looking to emphasize the stakes of the debate for Europe and beyond as House Republicans have blocked new U.S. funding. Republicans are arguing that the United States can’t afford to keep pouring billions of dollars of taxpayer money into Ukraine’s war effort and that Europe should do more for Kyiv.

Meanwhile, Biden sought to use his meeting with the German leader to once again pressure Republicans to stand by its European allies.

“The failure of the United States Congress, if it occurs, not to support Ukraine, is close to criminal neglect,” Biden said. “It is outrageous.”

Before the White House meeting, Scholz said that backing away from support for Kyiv would have consequences beyond Ukraine and could prove more costly to Western governments in the long run.

“Others around the world are watching closely to see whether these divisions can be exploited and whether disinformation campaigns can take hold,” Scholz wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed published Thursday. “We must prove them wrong by convincing citizens on both sides of the Atlantic that a Russian victory would make the world a far more dangerous place. It would also strain our budgets while putting the freedom and prosperity of each of us in peril.”

Republicans this week blocked a $118 bipartisan border package that had been tied to Ukraine funding and aid for Israel. The Senate on Thursday voted to begin work on a narrower package that would include roughly $60 billion for Ukraine and $35 billion for Israel, but doubts remained about whether it could win enough support from Republicans for passage.

The impasse has meant that the U.S. has halted arms shipments to Kyiv at a crucial point in the nearly two-year-old conflict, leaving Ukrainian soldiers without ample ammunition and missiles as Russian President Vladimir Putin has mounted relentless attacks. The U.S. has provided Ukraine with some $111 billion since Putin launched his grinding invasion.

Scholz also spotlighted during his quick visit to Washington what the 27-member European Union has done recently to help the Ukraine cause, including paving the way for EU membership talks for Ukraine, and underscoring that Germany is planning more than 7 billion euros ($7.5 billion) for weapons deliveries despite a domestic budget crisis.

Heather Conley, president of the German Marshall Fund in Washington, said that Scholz was also looking to hear from Biden on his “Plan B” if Congress remains at loggerheads over funding for Ukraine.

“If in fact, there is no forthcoming U.S. supplemental, what tools does the U.S. administration have at its disposal?” Conley said.

Scholz said that he was hopeful the effort to separate Ukraine funding will end the funding impasse. The German leader hosted a bipartisan group of eight senators for dinner on Thursday evening after arriving in Washington.

“The president is very clear, and we agree: If it is not possible to bring about a decision in the American Congress that releases funding for the further support of Ukraine, then that is a threat to Ukraine’s ability to defend itself,” Scholz said following the meeting. “That’s why we are both very firmly convinced that this must happen now, but also confident that the American Congress will in the end make such a decision.”

Biden, however, noted to Scholz at the start of the Oval Office meeting that House Republicans still remain “somewhat reluctant.”

U.S. officials are also concerned that the funding impasse is shaping Moscow’s strategy, noting a surge in strikes targeting Ukraine’s defense industrial base that seems aimed at setting back Ukraine’s ability to produce munitions needed to defend itself.

“The president believes that support for Ukraine is critical, particularly right now, as Russia continues to try to hit their defense industrial base,” Kirby said.

Scholz recently called on other European countries to step up with more weapons deliveries for Ukraine, saying that “it can’t be down to Germany alone.”

Berlin is making “a very big contribution, but it won’t be enough on its own if sufficient support doesn’t come together everywhere,” Scholz said before departing Germany for Washington on Thursday. “Now is the moment for us to do what is necessary — give Ukraine the possibility to defend itself, and at the same time send the Russian president a very clear signal: the signal that he can’t expect our support to ease off.”