President Biden is set to deliver an Oval Office speech Thursday urging Americans to stand by Israel and Ukraine as they face ruthless but very different adversaries, making the case for billions in aid to both countries at a time when such assistance is under attack from a variety of quarters.
The address marks a striking effort by Biden to link two global crises that have consumed much of his presidency, and he is expected to make a broad moral and practical argument about the U.S. role in the world.
The speech culminates an extraordinary week for Biden, as the president set aside his schedule for a whirlwind trip into a war zone to appear personally alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The trip is likely to stand out as a signature moment of his presidency, though the outcome is far from certain as the Middle East remains engulfed in violent turmoil.
The immediate political question for Biden is whether he can successfully link a terrorist assault in the Middle East with a slogging ground war in Eastern Europe, keeping up public support for both efforts. Republicans have grown increasingly wary of sending more aid to Ukraine, even while they enthusiastically back assistance for Israel.
During the president’s trip to Tel Aviv, he announced a deal with Israeli officials to allow humanitarian aid to reach the more than 2 million Gazans lacking basic resources amid an Israeli siege, though parts of that deal remained uncertain on Thursday. He also vowed to significantly increase U.S. military aid to Israel.
“For decades, we’ve ensured Israel’s qualitative military edge,” Biden said in Israel. “Later this week, I’m going to ask the United States Congress for an unprecedented support package for Israel’s defense.”
White House officials have been considering a package that could cost as much as $100 billion, although that figure remains in flux, according to people briefed on the matter. Such a package could also include elements beyond Israel and Ukraine, such as more money to secure the U.S. border.
The assistance to Israel would be aimed at strengthening the country’s Iron Dome air defense system, Biden said. The United States has already positioned two aircraft carriers and their escort ships near Israel and sent thousands of soldiers and Marines to staff them, in part driven by concern that the conflict could flare into a broader regional war.
In announcing the speech Wednesday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden would “address the nation to discuss our response to Hamas’ terrorist attacks against Israel and Russia’s ongoing brutal war against Ukraine.” But any effort to link the two conflicts is likely to face immediate challenges.
Biden will have to overcome resistance from a significant number of House Republicans who have been agitating to slash aid to Ukraine — in some cases, to nothing. America, they argue, has little at stake in a faraway war between two remote countries, and the money would be better spent on such uses as securing America’s southern border.
Those lawmakers, many of te are among the chamber’s most conservative, have wielded increased influence in recent months while pushing out Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) as House speaker and seeking to install a leader more friendly to their agenda.
Any request to Congress will now encounter a House in disarray as Republicans struggle to unite behind a new speaker. GOP leaders are considering a proposal to expand the powers of interim speaker Patrick T. McHenry (R-N.C.) so the chamber can resume functioning. But it is unclear if that proposal has majority support, and for now the House lacks a mechanism to pass any legislation.
Public support for Ukraine is also slipping. A Washington Post-ABC poll last month found 41 percent of Americans saying the United States was doing too much to support Ukraine, while 50 percent said it was doing about the right amount or too little.
Among Republicans, however, 59 percent said the United States was doing too much to aid Kyiv.
Support for Israel has received greater bipartisan backing. But a few liberal Democratic members of Congress have called for a cease-fire without publicly supporting Israel, prompting Jean-Pierre to criticize their statements as “disgraceful.”
Biden’s appeal comes against the backdrop of an Israel-Gaza war that is very much ongoing, as Israel mounts a tight blockade of Gaza and readies its forces for a ground incursion. Israeli airstrikes continued Thursday, including in safe zones in the south, such as Khan Younis, where Israeli leaders urged Palestinians to head in advance of the invasion.
At least 1,400 people in Israel have been killed and more than 4,500 injured since the unprecedented cross-border Hamas attack on Oct. 7, Israeli authorities have said. Palestinian officials have said that 3,785 people in Gaza have been killed and more than 12,400 wounded.
Biden is not the only world leader seeking to balance his support Israel with efforts to relieve Gaza’s humanitarian crisis and head off a wider spread of the war.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak traveled to Jerusalem and Saudi Arabia this week. “We will work together to ensure regional stability and prevent a dangerous escalation,” Sunak said Thursday on X, formerly known as Twitter.
The White House is calculating that a single aid package for both countries would be harder for members of Congress to vote against, especially Republicans whose skepticism on funding Ukraine might be overcome by their urgent desire to send aid to Israel.
The linkage is also a way for Biden to make a sweeping argument that the United States has a duty to stand by democracies around the world wherever they may be, in opposition to the “America First” approach of his leading Republican challenger, former president Donald Trump.
Biden has made the argument for a fraternity of democracies in recent days as he urges Israel to minimize civilian casualties in its response to the Hamas killings.
“What sets us apart from the terrorists is we believe in the fundamental dignity of every human life — Israeli, Palestinian, Arab, Jew, Muslim, Christian — everyone,” Biden said during his brief trip to Israel. “You can’t give up what makes you who you are. If you give that up, then the terrorists win. And we can never let them win.”