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Biden makes the case for supporting Israel and Ukraine with money, weapons

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Here in the U.S., a presidential address from the Oval Office delivered in prime time is rare and, as a result, carries added weight. President Biden last night delivered only the second such address of his presidency, explaining what America has at stake as Israel and Ukraine defend themselves.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: You know, history has taught us that when terrorists don't pay a price for their terror, when dictators don't pay a price for their aggression, they cause more chaos and death and more destruction.

MARTÍNEZ: Today, Biden is formally asking Congress for funding to put behind this defense, and NPR senior White House correspondent Tamara Keith has all the numbers. So, Tam, how much money are we talking about?

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: A lot. The total is just shy of $106 billion and is meant to last for a whole year. The biggest portion is for Ukraine, $61 billion. There's also 14 billion in there for Israel, which the president has described as unprecedented. And the reason the White House is going big is because it is increasingly becoming clear that they may not get another bite at the apple in the next year, given the political instability in the House of Representatives, the ongoing lack of a speaker, the rising GOP opposition to government spending, especially overseas, and the fact that next year is an election year, which makes everything just that much more messy.

MARTÍNEZ: How did President Biden explain why he wants so much money for these conflicts?

KEITH: He says that this is a critical time for the world, defending allies under attack. And he was just back from Israel, where they are ramping up for what could be a lengthy military campaign to take out Hamas. The war in Ukraine has been going for nearly two years. Politically, fatigue has set in, but Biden says they need help to keep the fight up against Russia, and he sought to link Israel and Ukraine together in people's minds.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: Hamas and Putin represent different threats, but they share this in common. They both want to completely annihilate a neighboring democracy, completely annihilate it.

KEITH: The main thing in both cases is - sorry, you know, the math he's doing here is that Republicans are more uniformly in favor of supporting Israel than Democrats. Meanwhile, Democrats are more in favor of supporting Ukraine than Republicans are. And the reasons are multifold, but what Biden is saying here is both of these countries need the United States, and it's in America's interest for them to succeed so that countries like China and Iran don't get any ideas.

MARTÍNEZ: So the words military assistance can mean a lot of things. What kind of support is Biden really talking about?

KEITH: Weapons, supplying weapons. The White House isn't getting into too many specifics about which ones. Biden made an argument last night, though, that giving these weapons to allies isn't pure charity. It allows the U.S. to update its stockpile, and it supports jobs at defense manufacturers in states like Arizona, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Texas. According to the White House, this funding request would contribute $50 billion to big defense companies and shipyards in the United States to build new missiles and submarines, even. And Biden was clear that American troops are not fighting these wars. This is an investment to avoid the U.S. getting drawn into a wider conflict.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, Tam, I know that deal-making means you got to give something to get something. How is the White House going to get this across the finish line in Congress?

KEITH: Well, it's not totally clear that they will, but this package does include money for some top Republican priorities. There is a significant chunk of money for border and border security, countering fentanyl smuggling - about $10 billion, all told. Also money for Indo-Pacific security - in other words, countering China. And an important note, though, about how all this works - just because the White House has bundled this request together and sent it over to Congress with a nice cover letter doesn't mean that Congress is going to take it up in this form or with these dollar totals. They could pull out some things that they want and pass them and not others. It really is in Congress's hands now.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. That's NPR senior White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Tam, thanks.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.