President Joe Biden tied the wars in Ukraine and Israel together during a primetime Oval Office address Thursday, making an impassioned appeal to the American people to support two fellow democracies that he says are facing existential threats.
The president has often cast this moment in history as an “inflection point” – a battle between the world’s democracies and autocracies. On Thursday, he argued that “this is one of those moments,” making a direct appeal to the American people as he sought to build support for US funding for wars abroad that could face a challenging path in Congress, where the House of Representatives remains unable to pass legislation in its second week without a speaker.
“Hamas and Putin represent different threats, but they share this in common: They both want to completely annihilate a neighboring democracy, completely annihilate it,” Biden said.
“We can’t let petty partisan, angry politics get in the way of our responsibilities as a great nation. We cannot and will not let terrorists like Hamas and tyrants like Putin win. I refuse to let that happen,” he added.”
He laid out the stakes for the American people, calling the wars a national security imperative and a critical moment for the future of American leadership and democracies worldwide.
“American leadership is what holds the world together. American alliances are what keep us in America safe. American values are what make us a partner nation you want to work with,” he said. “To put all that at risk – we walk away from Ukraine, we turn our backs on Israel – it’s just not worth it.”
The president said support for both wars is “vital for America’s national security.”
“History has taught us that when terrorists don’t pay a price for their terror, when dictators don’t pay a price for their aggression, they cause more chaos and death and more destruction. They keep going. And the cost and the threat to America in the world keep rising,” Biden said, warning, “If we don’t stop Putin’s appetite for power and control in Ukraine, he won’t limit himself just to Ukraine.”
And he warned more broadly that the United States’ adversaries and competitors “are watching.”
“If we walk away and let Putin erase Ukraine’s independence, would-be aggressors around the world would be emboldened to try the same. The risk of conflict and chaos could spread in other parts of the world – in the Indo Pacific, in the Middle East, especially in the Middle East,” Biden said.
A request for more funding
The primetime address took place on the eve of the White House requesting north of $100 billion from Congress to deliver aid and resources to Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan, and the US border with Mexico, even though the legislative branch is paralyzed by the dysfunction in the House of Representatives.
The administration has informed lawmakers it plans to seek $14 billion for border security in its new funding package, a marked increase from the previous ask, according to a source familiar. The administration previously asked for $4 billion in supplemental funding to address needs on the US-Mexico border. The new ask encompasses fiscal year 2024, which is why it’s higher than the supplemental request submitted by the White House over the summer, according to another source familiar.
Biden said he would be submitting an “urgent budget request” for supplemental funding for Israel and Ukraine, among other national security priorities.
“That’s why tomorrow I’m going to send to Congress an urgent budget request to fund America’s national security needs – needs to support our critical partners, including Israel and Ukraine. It’s a smart investment that’s gonna pay dividends for American security for generations,” Biden said.
While the White House believes there remains broad bipartisan support in Congress for the package, as three administration officials told CNN, real questions remain about the path for such a package with a leadership vacuum in the House of Representatives and consternation about federal spending levels that have cast into question the government’s ability to fund itself beyond mid-November.
The Biden administration in August delivered its last so-called supplemental funding request, which encapsulates unique requests beyond traditional government programs. The proposal requested $24.1 billion to aid Ukraine through the end of the year, but Congress failed to approve it during a process to greenlight short-term federal funding.
Biden reiterated that he will not put American boots on the ground in Ukraine.
“I will not send American troops to fight in Ukraine. All Ukraine is asking for is help. For the weapons, munitions, the capacity, the capability of pushing invading Russian forces off their land and the air defense system to shoot down Russian missiles before they destroy Ukrainian cities,” he said.
As public opinion toward military aid provision for Ukraine has waned in the last year, Biden also sought to explain the process, tying it to American jobs.
“We send Ukrainian equipment sitting in our stockpiles. And when we use the money allocated by Congress, we use it to replenish our own stores, our own stockpiles, with new equipment. Equipment that defends America and is made in America,” he said, pointing to Patriot missiles for air defense batteries that are made in Arizona and artillery shells that are manufactured in 12 states across the country, including Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Texas.
“Just as in World War II, today, patriotic American workers are building the arsenal of democracy and serving the cause of freedom,” he said.
Public opinion regarding US assistance has been mixed.
In a recent CNN poll, nearly all respondents were sympathetic with the Israeli people in the wake of surprise attacks launched by Hamas, but there was no clear consensus on the right level of US involvement. One-third (35%) said the US is providing the right amount of assistance – and another 36% were unsure whether the level of US assistance is appropriate. The US has long provided security assistance to Israel, which receives roughly $4 billion annually under a 10-year memorandum of understanding. The new request would provide billions more.
By contrast, support to sustain aid to Ukraine has waned significantly since Russia’s unprovoked invasion in February 2022. An August CNN poll found 55% of respondents said Congress should not pass more funding to aid Ukraine. The partisan divide has been deepening, too: Nearly three-quarters of Republicans opposed more funding for Ukraine, while 62% of Democrats supported it.
Since Russia’s invasion, the White House and Congress have provided more than $75 billion in funding to Kyiv, according to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy.
Speech comes after high-profile visit
The speech comes on the heels of his wartime visit to the Middle East, which went on even after a blast tore through a hospital in Gaza. While his planned stop in Amman, Jordan, to meet Arab leaders was canceled just as the president was preparing to depart the White House, Biden did spend hours on the ground in Tel Aviv.
For Biden, a trip in the formative days of a potentially drawn-out conflict amounted to the ultimate test of his confidence – built over decades – that getting in the same room can influence people and events.
During the speech, the president reflected on the visit, which included a meeting that stretched well past what officials had expected, in which Biden sought to use his decades-long relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – one that has endured significant strain over the past year – to offer advice and seek commitments on the flow of humanitarian aid to Gaza.
“The terrorist group Hamas unleashed pure, unadulterated evil in the world. But sadly, the Jewish people know, perhaps better than anyone, that there is no limit to the depravity of people when they want to inflict pain on others. In Israel, I saw people who are strong, determined, resilient and also angry, in shock and in deep, deep pain,” he said.
He reiterated his support for Americans being held hostage by Hamas.
“As I told the families of Americans being held captive by Hamas, we’re pursuing every avenue to bring their loved ones home. As president, there is no higher priority for me than the safety of Americans held hostage,” he said.
He also pointed to an agreement securing “sustained delivery of lifesaving humanitarian assistance for the Palestinians, from the United Nations to Palestinian civilians in Gaza,” warning Hamas against diverting or stealing the shipments.
The US, Egypt and Israel have all signaled readiness for aid to begin moving into Gaza, following Biden’s high-profile visit. However, the Rafah crossing from Egypt to Gaza is not expected to open Friday for a convoy of humanitarian aid to get into Gaza, multiple sources told CNN, despite expectations voiced by Biden and others that it would be open.
“I would not put money on those trucks going through tomorrow,” one source familiar with the discussions told CNN.
During his address, Biden sought to draw a clear distinction between Hamas and the Palestinian people and argued for a two-state solution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
“Hamas does not represent the Palestinian people. Hamas uses Palestinian civilians as human shields, and innocent Palestinian families are suffering greatly because of them,” he said.
The US, he later added, “remains committed to the Palestinian people’s right to dignity and to self-determination. The actions of Hamas terrorists don’t take that right away.”
Biden empathizes with both Muslims and Jews
During Biden’s speech, he spoke out forcefully against both Islamophobia and antisemitism, both of which have intensified in recent days, offering comfort and condemnation.
Biden acknowledged the fear from Jewish families “worried about being targeted in school, wearing symbols of their faith walking down the street, or going out about their daily life.”
And he empathized with Muslim Americans who are “outraged… saying to yourself, ‘Here we go again, with Islamophobia and distrust we saw after 9/11.’”
“We can’t stand by and stand silent where this happens. We must, without equivocation, denounce antisemitism. We must, also without equivocation, denounce Islamophobia,” he said.
Biden and first lady Dr. Jill Biden spoke Thursday evening with the father and uncle of Wadea Al-Fayoume, the Palestinian American boy stabbed to death in Illinois on Saturday.
The Bidens “expressed their deepest condolences to the ( Al-Fayoume) family as they mourn; their prayers that Wadea’s mother, Hannan Shahin, makes a full recovery; and their commitment to keep speaking out against anti-Palestinian, anti-Arab, and anti-Muslim hate and violence,” the White House said.
Biden invoked the Al-Fayoume family in his Oval Office address.
“Just last week, a mother was brutally stabbed. A little boy – here in the United States – a little boy who just turned six years old was murdered in their home outside of Chicago. His name was Wadea, Wadea. A proud American, a proud Palestinian-American family,” Biden said.
He offered a message of recognition to those impacted: “To all of you hurting, those of you hurting, I want you to know I see you. You belong. I want to say this to you: You’re all American.”
“In moments like these, and when fears and suspicion, anger and rage run hard, we have to work harder than ever to hold onto the values that make us who we are,” he said.
While he said that Americans should not “forget who we are,” he also warned that the government of Israel should not “be blinded by rage.”
The message – tinged with hard-learned lessons from life in the United States after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks – echoed thoughts Biden shared with Israelis while in Tel Aviv the day before.
“I caution this: While you feel that rage, don’t be consumed by it,” Biden told his audience, a collection of Israelis and Americans.
“I know the choices are never clear or easy for the leadership,” Biden went on, recalling mistakes the United States made after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. “There’s always cost, but it requires being deliberate, requires asking very hard questions. That requires clarity about the objectives and an honest assessment about whether the path you’re on will achieve those objectives.”