McConnell’s $1.5B phone call: How Congress supercharged its Ukraine aid deal

A last-minute phone call from Mitch McConnell to Chuck Schumer helped seal an unprecedented congressional infusion of aid to Ukraine, increasing the ask by $1.5 billion in a single conversation.

While Ukraine came under attack, Congress scrambled to boost lethal and humanitarian aid for the European ally. So as leaders finalized a $1.5 trillion government spending bill that included emergency assistance for Ukraine, the Senate GOP leader phoned his Democratic counterpart this week with a simple but significant request: Double the size of a critical $1.5 billion fund for Ukraine to help its military fight Russian invaders.

“To Chuck’s credit, he said, ‘OK,’” McConnell recalled in an interview Thursday in his Capitol office. “It wasn’t a hard sell.”

All told, the bill President Joe Biden will soon sign will more than double his initial request of $6.4 billion for Ukraine to roughly $14 billion. Senators in both parties negotiating the aid deal described a pot of money that ballooned each day as Russia’s assault on Ukraine escalated, killing civilians and sending millions of refugees across Europe.

McConnell’s overtures to Schumer, and the majority leader’s quick agreement, underscored the unusually muscular approach Congress took in a foreign policy realm it often defers to the executive. Top lawmakers not only pushed to arm Ukraine and punish Russia — they also persuaded the White House to go further in its sanctions.

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