WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed legislation on Thursday that would allow President Biden to use a World War II-era law to quickly lend arms to Ukraine, sending the measure to Mr. Biden’s desk hours after he asked Congress to authorize tens of billions of dollars worth of additional emergency aid to Kyiv.
The 417-10 vote to invoke an extraordinary, eight-decade-old law created to fight Hitler reflected a growing bipartisan sense of urgency in Congress to bolster Ukraine’s military as it prepares for an ugly and protracted artillery war in the south and in the east of the country. The Senate passed the law unanimously this month.
“The passage of this law allowed Britain and Winston Churchill to keep fighting and survive the Nazi fascist bombardment until the United States could enter the war,” said Maryland Democrat Rep. Jamie Raskin. “President Zelenskyy has said that Ukraine needs guns to sustain itself and President Biden has heeded that call.”
The legislation invokes the Lend-Lease Act of 1941, originally proposed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to arm British forces to fight 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 feared the bill would plunge the United States more directly into conflict, and he worked feverishly to garner public support for the measure.
“And so our country will be what our people proclaimed — the arsenal of democracy,” Roosevelt said after signing the law. By the end of the war, the United States had provided 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 indication of how aggressively they might try to apply the law. Pentagon spokesman John F. Kirby disagreed Wednesday when asked for the administration’s view on the measure, saying he would “not rush ahead of pending legislation.”
Still, it could become an important tool for the White House as the United States seeks long-term military support for Ukraine, even as flows of Western arms – including heavy equipment such as howitzers and armed drones – surge into the country.
It would allow the United States to deliver arms to Ukraine more quickly by removing a number of procedural hurdles. And it would essentially allow the Biden administration to give away huge tranches of arms to Kyiv at a time when Mr. Biden said he had nearly exhausted emergency military funding approved by Congress in March.
“How we respond to a threat to a democracy’s sovereignty sends a message about how we will respond to others, and adversaries like China look on,” said Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican and one of the original backers of the bill. “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 to Ukraine. The funding, which is more than twice the size of the $13.6 billion package Congress passed last month, is said to be detailed on condition of anonymity before its official release, according to an administration official has to last at least five months.
About half of that number is expected to fund new military aid.
Emily Cochrane contributed reporting.
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