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Biden appeals for more funding for Ukraine and Israel in rare Oval Office address

President Biden addresses the nation on the conflict between Israel and Gaza and the Russian invasion of Ukraine from the Oval Office of the White House on Thursday.
Jonathan Ernst
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Pool/AFP via Getty Images
President Biden addresses the nation on the conflict between Israel and Gaza and the Russian invasion of Ukraine from the Oval Office of the White House on Thursday.

Updated October 19, 2023 at 10:01 PM ET

President Biden gave a rare Oval Office address Thursday night to make the case that it is in Americans' best interests to hike funding for Israel after the deadly Hamas attack — and to support additional funding for Ukraine, embroiled in its long fight against Russia.

During the 15 minute speech to the nation, Biden drew a connection between Russia and the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which attacked Israel on Oct. 7 and sparked the current war.

"They both want to completely annihilate a neighboring democracy, completely annihilate it," Biden said, noting that Iran supports both President Vladimir Putin and Hamas.

The Oval Office backdrop is a signal of the gravity that Biden places on these national security matters. The speech was only the second time he has spoken to the nation from behind the Resolute Desk; the first was in June, after the debt ceiling crisis was averted.

It will be a challenge to get the funding approved

Biden said he would send a formal request for funding to Congress on Friday, but the fate of the proposal, which is expected to be billions of dollars, is unclear.

For one thing, the Republican-led House of Representatives does not currently have a speaker, making it impossible to consider any such funding package. There is also waning public support — primarily among Republicans — of increasing spending for Ukraine. In its most recent government funding bill, Congress failed to include $24 billion to keep military and economic aid flowing to Ukraine until the end of the year.

Biden said he knows Americans wonder why they should spend money on faraway conflicts. But he warned of more "chaos, death and destruction" and ultimately higher costs for America if Hamas or Putin don't pay a price for their actions.

"Putin has turned to Iran and North Korea to buy attack drones and ammunition to terrorize Ukrainian cities and people from the outset," he said.

Noting that the administration does not intend to send American troops to fight in Ukraine, Biden added:

"All Ukraine is asking for is help for the weapons, munitions, the capacity, the capability to push invading Russian forces off their land and the air defense system to shoot down Russian missiles before they destroy Ukrainian cities."

President Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the Oval Office on Sept. 21, 2023. Zelenskyy pressed his case as Congress worked on its last spending bill, but the aid was not included.
Evan Vucci / AP
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AP
President Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the Oval Office on Sept. 21, 2023. Zelenskyy pressed his case as Congress worked on its last spending bill, but the aid was not included.

The president warned that if Putin and Hamas go unchecked, other aggressors would be emboldened in the Indo-Pacific or Middle East.

While the White House has so far withheld the size of the imminent defense aid package, Biden tried to appeal to the public's sense of safety here at home and around the world, calling the request a "smart investment that's going to pay dividends for American security for generations."

Biden urges Israel not to give up on peace even as he shows support

Thursday's remarks came just after Biden returned from a whirlwind trip to Tel Aviv, where he pressed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his war cabinet on their military strategy to fight Hamas.

And as he did on that visit, the president walked a fine line in his address, pronouncing his unequivocal support for Israel while also expressing concerns about civilians in Gaza.

He was again adamant that Israel has a right to defend itself and pledged to ask for "an unprecedented" support package for Israel's defense. Still, he reiterated words of caution to Israel, urging leaders not to give in to feelings of hate.

"As hard as it is, we cannot give up on peace. We cannot give up on a two-state solution. Israel and Palestinians equally deserve to live in safety, dignity and peace," Biden said.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greets President Biden upon his arrival at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport on Wednesday.
Brendan Smialowski / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greets President Biden upon his arrival at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport on Wednesday.

Biden also urged Americans to denounce antisemitism, Islamophobia and other forms of hate like the kind that apparently fueled the murder of a young Palestinian-American boy outside Chicago over the weekend.

"His name was Wadea. Wadea," Biden said. "A proud American, a proud Palestinian American family. We can't stand by and stand silent when this happens."

The White House said Biden spoke with the 6-year-old's father and uncle after his address to express condolences.

The White House ask may include other national security priorities

In his formal request to Congress, it's possible Biden could ask for more funding for Taiwan, as well, though he did not raise this in Thursday's remarks.

He had also previously asked Congress for $4 billion in funding to deal with fentanyl trafficking and issues at the southern U.S. border, but that money also was left out of this fall's funding bill. Both funding for Taiwanand border security are elements some Republican leaders in Congress have shown support for.

"In the coming days, it will be the Senate's responsibility to take strong and decisive action to put support behind Israel's self-defense, equip Ukraine for victory ... and help Taiwan deter growing threats," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday.

Combining several different issues into one bill could be a risky move in a divided Congress, but Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, told NPR it could help broaden support for the funding.

"I'm hopeful that it actually broadens the support for members of Congress who are focused on different issues," Sullivan said. "And as you know, a lot of times in the Congress, things happen where you get a bill or a funding package that you don't agree with everything, but if you agree with a lot of it, it can broaden the support."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Deepa Shivaram
Deepa Shivaram is a multi-platform political reporter on NPR's Washington Desk.
Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.