Lawmakers Step Up Ukraine Aid Urgency

Good morning. President Joe Biden will deliver the State of the Union address tonight. (Early bedtime advocates are disheartened it will once again start at 9 p.m. ET, but they pledge to continue the fight for next year’s address to begin at a reasonable hour.)

Ukraine Top of Mind

Lawmakers from both chambers received a classified briefing on Monday night from top administration officials about the state of Russia’s unprovoked and brutal war of aggression in Ukraine.

As they left the briefings, members emphasized that Congress needs to quickly approve billions of dollars in new assistance for Ukraine.

“The resistance is very strong, but they need more weapons,” said Rep. Mike McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “Putin is going to double down, and it’s going to get pretty ugly.”

We reported in Friday’s Uphill that members of Congress were discussing various options to strengthen the United States’ response to Russia. Over the weekend, the Biden administration and European countries took action on several of those points, including sanctioning Putin directly and blocking some Russian banks from SWIFT. 

The White House also authorized a new $350 million military assistance package for Ukraine on Friday and provided more details to Congress about a funding package for Ukraine. The administration is requesting $6.4 billion, split between the U.S. Department of Defense and humanitarian and military aid for Ukraine. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Monday that lawmakers are working to include the aid in an upcoming omnibus government spending bill before a March 11 shutdown deadline.

Some Republicans are still pushing for more expansive sanctions, including on Russia’s oil and gas sector. Connecticut Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, argued that the sanctions that have already been announced have had a deep bite. 

“We should monitor the sanctions that we’ve put in place and be ready to consider more,” Murphy said. “We need to be flexible and understand that if Putin continues this assault on Ukraine, if he starts to target more civilian infrastructure, we need to be ready with a response.”

As the war continues, members of Congress are proposing other avenues to respond without military escalation. A group of 39 senators has called for granting temporary protected status to the roughly 29,500 Ukrainians who are already in the United States on visas.

”Obviously we can’t be deporting Ukrainians back to an active theater of war,” Murphy told reporters.

Immigration policy could draw highly skilled Russians to the United States and deprive Putin of a workforce with advanced degrees. When asked about that approach, McCaul, the top Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee, pointed to German-American rocket scientist Wernher von Braun, who developed the Saturn V rocket that took Americans to the moon. 

“That’s probably not a bad idea,” McCaul said of attempting to brain drain Russia.

Trade policy is also in the mix: Two House Democrats on the powerful Ways and Means Committee have urged ending normal trade relations with Russia and ejecting the country from the World Trade Organization.

Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden also said he is discussing how to use trade policy to punish Russia.

“Nobody has done anything like this since World War II,” Wyden told reporters on Monday night. “In my view, this makes Vladimir Putin an outlaw from the international trade system, and I’m talking to my colleagues about strong action to deal with that.”

Members of Congress are acutely aware that this war isn’t like others they have followed over the past two decades. Russia is a nuclear power, and the vast majority of lawmakers do not want to risk provoking a direct conflict between Russia and NATO. Senators from both parties on Monday rejected the idea—shared by GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger and Sen. Roger Wicker—of instituting a no-fly zone over Ukraine.

“That would mean shooting down Russian airplanes,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, the top Republican on the intelligence panel. “That would mean World War III.”

GOP Leaders Condemn MTG White Nationalist Appearance

When Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene appeared at a conference organized by white nationalist Nick Fuentes last week, it wasn’t clear whether House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy would respond to it. That’s because McCarthy ignored numerous questions about Rep. Paul Gosar’s speech at the same extremist conference last year, refusing to condemn his decision to appear. 

But last night, McCarthy broke his silence and told reporters Greene’s recent appearance at the event “was appalling and wrong. And there’s no place in our party for any of this.” He added that Greene should have walked off the stage after Fuentes’ introduction.

Fuentes led the crowd at the conference in a chant of “Putin, Putin” and solicited a round of applause for Russia. And as my colleague Andrew wrote last week, Fuentes said at one point: “Now they’re going on about Vladimir Putin and Russia, and Vladimir Putin is Hitler—and they say that’s not a good thing.”

McCarthy said he would have a conversation with Greene, as well as Gosar, who spoke at the event this year over video. But he was ready to move on from the matter on Tuesday, dodging questions about it at his press conference.

It’s unclear if McCarthy will exact any real consequences on Greene and Gosar. Both have been removed from their committees by the full House for their rhetoric, but McCarthy has pledged to restore them to committees, and perhaps even “better committee assignments,” in the next Congress if Republicans retake the House. 

Meanwhile, he went out of his way to endorse Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney’s primary challenger amid Cheney’s involvement in the House’s January 6 investigation. As of this morning, his campaign hadn’t responded to a request for comment on whether he will likewise endorse a primary challenger against Greene.

Space Strife

Arizona Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly, a former astronaut, responded on Monday night to the head of the Russian space agency’s veiled threat about crashing the International Space Station.

“I think he failed to recognize that most of the planet is the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic, and Indian Ocean,” Kelly said in a brief conversation with The Dispatch as he went to Senate votes.

Roscosmos Director General Dmitry Rogozin tweeted last week warning against sanctions on Russia. “If you block cooperation with us, who will save the International Space Station (ISS) from an uncontrolled deorbit and fall into the United States or Europe?” he posted. “There is also the possibility of a 500-ton structure falling on India and China. Do you want to threaten them with such a prospect? The ISS does not fly over Russia, therefore all the risks are yours. Are you ready for them?”

Russia’s segment of the station controls navigation. Russian cargo space ships also occasionally push the station higher into orbit or maneuver the ISS away from space debris when needed. NASA officials have said the space partnership between the United States and Russia is still in place, despite the tensions. Four American astronauts are currently on board the ISS, joined by two Russian cosmonauts and one European astronaut.

Kelly flew four space shuttle missions, visiting and resupplying the ISS several times. His twin brother, Scott Kelly, spent nearly a year on the space station, allowing NASA to study the effects of prolonged time in space on the human body.

“The thing you’ve got to understand about when you have crewmembers on board a space station like that—and every time I flew in space I had either Russian cosmonauts on the space station or even sometimes on the space shuttle with me—you know these folks really well,” Kelly told The Dispatch when asked how individual astronauts would be managing the situation. “You’ve been training with them for a long time, and they’re professionals, we’re professionals at it. Obviously something like this would heighten the tensions, but they’ll get through it.”

On the Floor

The House is set to take up legislation that would expand benefits for veterans exposed to toxic substances during their service. Senators are expected to take up a postal service reform package this week.

Key Hearings

  • The Senate Armed Services Committee met this morning to examine global security challenges. Information and video here.

  • The House subcommittee that deals with space heard from NASA officials and other experts this morning on the status of the Artemis program to return to the Moon. Information and video here.

  • Top Defense officials will appear before a House Armed Services subcommittee this afternoon for a hearing on America’s strategic forces posture. Lawmakers will examine America’s nuclear capabilities, missile defense, and more. Information and livestream here.

  • Federal Reserve Chair Jay Powell will testify before the House Financial Services Committee at 10 a.m.. Wednesday on the state of the economy. Information and livestream here. Powell will also appear at a Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs hearing Thursday morning. Information and livestream here.

  • Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg will testify Wednesday morning on implementing the infrastructure package Congress passed last year. Information and livestream here.

Of Note

Ukraine pleads with Congress for more aid and weapons

State of the Union address will seek to revive dormant budget reconciliation bill

Abortion-rights bill blocked in Senate

It’s not just the GOP. Three House Democrats to deliver their response to Biden’s address

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