By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. House of Representatives will vote on an aid package worth more than $40 billion for Ukraine on Tuesday night, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, as Congress races to avoid an interruption in defence assistance and boost the government in Kyiv.
The legislation is expected to pass the House and head to the Senate within the coming days, as Washington increases its support for Ukraine without sending troops to help fend off Russian troops who invaded on Feb. 24.
Biden asked Congress to approve an additional $33 billion in aid for Ukraine late last month, but lawmakers decided to add more military and humanitarian aid.
“Time is of the essence – and we cannot afford to wait,” Pelosi said in a letter to House members. “This package, which builds on the robust support already secured by Congress, will be pivotal in helping Ukraine defend not only its nation but democracy for the world.”
After sending the letter, Pelosi met with President Joe Biden at the White House to discuss her recent visit to Ukraine. The president had demanded that Congress get the bill to him quickly.
Many lawmakers – Biden’s fellow Democrats as well as opposition Republicans – have said they back the Ukraine aid. Democrats narrowly control Congress, but the bill will need Republican votes to get through the Senate.
Oksana Markarova, Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States, met with both Democratic and Republican senators at their weekly party lunches on Tuesday.
“It was a very heartfelt and easy to understand message: Their people are dying, they’re running out of supplies and ammunition. they need our help quickly. Thank you for all our help. Please. Speed it up,” Democratic Senator Dick Durbin said.
BILLIONS FOR WEAPONS
The package includes $6 billion for security assistance, including training, equipment, weapons and support; $8.7 billion to replenish stocks of U.S. equipment sent to Ukraine, and $3.9 billion for European Command operations.
In addition to that spending, the legislation authorizes an additional $11 billion in Presidential Drawdown Authority, in which the president can authorize the transfer of articles and services from U.S. stocks without congressional approval in response to an emergency. Biden had asked for $5 billion.
And it authorizes $4 billion in Foreign Military Financing to provide support for Ukraine and other countries affected by the crisis.
The United States has already rushed billions of dollars worth of armaments to Ukraine since Russia invaded, including howitzers, anti-aircraft Stinger systems, anti-tank Javelin missiles, ammunition and recently-disclosed “Ghost” drones.
The new aid package also includes humanitarian aid – $5 billion to address food insecurity globally due to the Ukraine crisis and nearly $9 billion for an economic support fund to provide budget support for Ukraine.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Richard Pullin)