WASHINGTON – The House on Thursday overwhelmingly passed legislation that would allow President Biden to use a World War II-era law to quickly supply weapons to Ukraine on loan, sending the measure to Mr. Biden’s desk hours after he urged Congress to approve tens of billions of dollars’ worth of additional emergency aid for Kyiv.
The 417-to-10 vote to invoke an extraordinary, eight-decade-old law created to battle Hitler reflected a growing bipartisan sense of urgency in Congress to bolster the Ukrainian military as it digs in for an ugly and protracted artillery war in the south and east of the country. The Senate passed the legislation unanimously this month.
“Passage of that act enabled Great Britain and Winston Churchill to keep fighting and to survive the fascist Nazi bombing until the United States could enter the war,” said Representative Jamie Raskin, Democrat of Maryland. “President Zelensky has said that Ukraine needs weapons to sustain themselves, and President Biden has answered that call.”
The legislation invokes the Lend-Lease Act of 1941, originally proposed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to help arm British forces battling Germany. The legislation allowed the president to lease or lend military equipment to any foreign government “whose defense the president deems vital to the defense of the United States.”
Roosevelt initially faced skepticism from isolationist members of Congress who worried the bill would plunge the United States more directly into the conflict, and he worked feverishly to win public support for the measure.
“And so our country is going to be what our people have proclaimed it must be – the arsenal of democracy,” Roosevelt said after signing the bill into law. By the end of the war, the United States had extended nearly $ 50 billion in Lend-Lease aid to Allied nations, according to the Library of Congress.
Members of Mr. Biden’s administration have offered little in the way of hints as to how aggressively they might seek to use the law. John F. Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, demurred on Wednesday when asked about the administration’s view of the measure, saying he would not “get ahead of pending legislation.”
Still, it could become an important tool for the White House as the United States looks to marshal long-term military support for Ukraine, even as the streams of Western weapons flowing into the country – including heavy-duty equipment such as howitzers and armed drones – increase.
It would allow the United States to deliver arms to Ukraine more speedily by doing away with a variety of procedural hurdles. And it would essentially allow the Biden administration to gift vast tranches of arms to Kyiv, at a time when Mr. Biden has said he has nearly exhausted the emergency military funding Congress approved in March.
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“How we address a threat against one democracy’s sovereignty sends a message about how we act on others, and adversaries like China are watching,” said Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas and one of the bill’s original sponsors. “If we believe America supports freedom and democracy, we must provide Ukraine with the weapons necessary to protect its citizens.”
Mr. Biden on Thursday asked Congress for $ 33 billion in additional defense, economic and humanitarian assistance for Ukraine. The funding, more than twice the size of the $ 13.6 billion package Congress passed last month, is projected to last for at least five months, according to an administration official who detailed the package on the condition of anonymity before its official release.
Roughly half of that figure is expected to fund new military assistance.
Emily Cochrane contributed reporting.