Biden, Visiting Missile Factory, Calls to Ramp Up U.S. Aid to Ukraine

WASHINGTON — President Biden made a forceful call on Tuesday for ramping up American military support for Ukraine as his administration rapidly dispenses artillery, antitank weapons and other hardware, raising questions about the surge in spending at a time when his domestic agenda is stalled.

Speaking at a Lockheed Martin plant in Troy, Ala., that manufactures Javelin antitank missiles, Mr. Biden said the transfer of the weapons has been crucial to Ukraine’s defense against the Russian invasion.

“We know that the United States is leading our allies and partners around the world to make sure the Ukrainians who are fighting for the future of their nation have the weapons and the capacity, and ammunition and equipment to defend themselves against Putin’s brutal war,” Mr. Biden said, referring to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

Mr. Biden’s embrace of the military assistance comes amid widespread bipartisan support for helping Ukraine in the fight, which he described as part of the “ongoing battle in the world between autocracy and democracy” around the world.

Still, there are growing concerns about the appropriate level of U.S. involvement.

Some military analysts and Republicans have expressed concern over whether the United States can continue to support Ukraine in the long term while also sustaining a stockpile of weapons for American readiness. And progressives have questioned how the administration can spend so much on the military when Mr. Biden’s proposals to invest in the social safety net have been slimmed or cut altogether.

Mr. Biden asked Congress last week for $33 billion for more weapons and economic and humanitarian aid for Ukraine. That would triple the total emergency expenditures and put the United States on track to spend as much this year helping Ukraine as it did on average each year fighting its own war in Afghanistan, or more. Mr. Biden has also asked for $813.3 billion in national security spending in his most recent budget proposal, an increase of $31 billion, or 4 percent, from 2022, frustrating some members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Robert Weissman, the president of the progressive group Public Citizen, said that while many progressives support sending help to Ukraine, “every time the leadership of either party invents a new rationale for military spending, there’s reason to be concerned.”

While both parties have supported Ukraine aid, progressives point out that Mr. Biden has not been able to pass a vast social policy package that aimed to battle climate change, expand health care and reweave the nation’s social safety net.

“There’s no political will for funding for improving health care, improving hearing aids for the elderly or addressing child poverty,” Mr. Weissman said.

Still, Mr. Biden said on Tuesday that helping Ukraine was the right thing to do, and he used the trip to try to build support for another piece of legislation that would invest billions in semiconductors needed to manufacture Javelin missiles.

That legislation would provide $52 billion in grants and subsidies for semiconductor makers and $45 billion in grants and loans to support supply chain resilience and American manufacturing, in an attempt to compete with China for industrial growth.

The United States has transferred 5,500 Javelins to Ukraine, White House officials said, and each of the weapons required more than 200 semiconductors in their assembly.

“We are going to ensure the semiconductors that power the economy and our national security are made here in America again,” Mr. Biden said.

The bulk of emergency funds Congress has already approved for weapons is to replace the munitions, such as Javelin and Stinger missiles, that Mr. Biden has transferred out of U.S. stockpiles and sent to Kyiv. That has caused concern among Republicans, who on Tuesday argued that Mr. Biden should not only increase the Pentagon budget but invoke the Defense Production Act to ramp up production of munitions and assist weapons makers struggling to deal with inflation and supply chain issues.

Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the minority leader, called Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “a wake-up call” for the United States to assess its own readiness. In a speech last week on the Senate floor, he said munitions manufacturers had warned it “could be years” to replace the weapons the Biden administration sent to Ukraine.

“America must be prepared to project power all over the globe,” Mr. McConnell said. “We cannot assume our adversaries will give us time to prepare for battle or to restock in the middle of one.”

But the Pentagon has adamantly rejected the notion that its assistance to Ukraine has left the administration unprepared to respond to another conflict.

Russia-Ukraine War: Key Developments

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Mariupol evacuation. Aid workers continued to carry out a large-scale evacuation of civilians from the seaport city, despite Russian shelling. The operation is seen as the possibly last hope for hundreds of civilians sheltering in bunkers beneath the wreckage of the Azovstal steel plant.

Western pledges. Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain became the first foreign leader to address Ukraine’s Parliament, burnishing his credentials as a supporter of the country and announcing additional aid. The U.S. Senate is preparing to take up President Biden’s $33 billion aid package, and the European Union is expected this week to impose an embargo on Russian oil.

On the ground. Russia’s offensive in eastern Ukraine is “anemic” and “plodding” and has been slowed by a risk-averse approach designed to avoid heavy casualties, a Pentagon official said. Meanwhile, a British intelligence agency said that the Russian losses in the war were staggering.

Moscow’s next move? Russia appears to be preparing to annex two regions in eastern Ukraine and possibly a third in the country’s south, a senior American diplomat said. The official said that the Kremlin would most likely stage “sham” elections to formally seize control.

Noting that the more than 5,000 Javelins sent to Ukraine amounted to a third of the administration’s stockpile of antitank missiles, Senator Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri, asked Pentagon officials during a meeting of a Senate Appropriations Committee subcommittee on Tuesday morning if they were prepared to quickly replace the antitank missiles.

“It is not only possible; we will do that,” said Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III.

“We will never go below our minimum requirement for our stockpile, so we will always maintain the capability to defend this country and support our interests,” he added.

Mr. Austin has said the United States is not just aiming to assist Ukraine, but also to see Russia so “weakened” that it could not commit a similar invasion in the future.

Some military analysts questioned whether the United States could maintain the pace of transfers necessary to support Ukraine in the long term.

“If you are going to provide extensive aid to another country, inevitably that’s going to eat into your own military capabilities,” said Mark Cancian, a retired Marine colonel and senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“That’s just going to take time, and to the extent there’s a chip shortage or a supply chain challenge, that just means it’s going to be very difficult to ramp up production,” Mr. Cancian said.

In recent weeks, Pentagon officials met with military contractors to discuss increasing the production of Javelins and other munitions. In those discussions, officials identified the shortage of semiconductors as a potential barrier to quickly building the missiles.

John Neuffer, the president and chief executive of the Semiconductor Industry Association, said the United States needed to pass the competitiveness legislation “to avert future chip shortages and reinforce America’s national security and the economy.”

Catie Edmondson and Ana Swanson contributed reporting.

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