President Joe Biden is making a new case to the American public for shipping arms, ammunition and other military supplies to the wars in Ukraine and Israel.
His argument: many of those supplies are made in America — and that’s good for American jobs.
In an Oval Office address Thursday seeking more than $106 billion in aid for Israel, Ukraine and other priorities, Biden linked the fight against Russia’s invasion to the attacks by Hamas. But he also underscored that much of the Ukraine funding he’s seeking would never leave the United States.
That argument — which namechecked 2024 battleground states Pennsylvania and Arizona — comes as Biden makes a reelection pitch centered on his efforts to create jobs and revitalize domestic manufacturing in sectors such as clean energy and semiconductor fabrication. The agenda, known as Bidenomics, has been met with skepticism from voters, according to polls, but the president appears set on putting it at the core of his reelection campaign.
And now that message includes arms manufacturing. The administration is pushing to ramp up the defense industrial base to pump out more artillery shells, missiles and other weapons for the U.S. and allies. The newest aid proposal, released Friday, includes $61.4 billion for Ukraine, of which $30 billion is for direct Ukrainian military aid.
“Let me be clear about something,” Biden said. “We send Ukraine 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. Patriot missiles for air defense batteries, made in Arizona. Artillery shells manufactured in 12 states across the country, in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas. And so much more,” he said. “You know, just as in World War II, today patriotic American workers are building the arsenal of democracy and serving the cause of freedom.”
For Democrats who have been eager to see Biden more actively selling the war supply effort to weary voters, the made-in-America angle is a welcome sign of political vigor. They acknowledge, though, that it is not a sure-thing political wager.
“To anybody that actually wants to, in good faith, make the decision, it’s certainly a really important and, I think, persuasive argument that this is about American jobs. It’s about helping actually bolster our entire defense manufacturing enterprise,” said Rep. Pat Ryan (D-N.Y.). “But I fear, and past behavior has shown, the MAGA extremists aren’t actually making this decision in good faith. They’re making it based on Russian propaganda that’s been propagated by Trump and everybody else.”
“So I don’t know that it sways, unfortunately, the people who you’d want to sway,” he lamented.
While Biden’s message might resonate with some voters, it’s not getting much traction with House Republicans who oppose more aid, at least not yet. Interviews with House GOP lawmakers on Friday showed that even those who feel Ukraine aid is justified aren’t buying Biden’s argument.
“Obviously the supply chain is important, but the president and people in his Cabinet need to sit down with members and lay down the strategy in Ukraine — and that’s the problem,” said House Defense Appropriations Chair Ken Calvert (D-Calif.), an ally of Ukraine aid. “One thing I’ve learned here is going to war, once it starts, it’s hard to end. We learned that in Iraq, we learned that in Afghanistan, and so what’s the strategy? How does this end?”
Bipartisan majorities in both chambers still support arming Ukraine, but a smaller $24 billion package Biden proposed has languished on Capitol Hill since August. House Republicans are increasingly opposed to new funding, and many GOP lawmakers argue Biden hasn’t properly justified the funding and laid out an endgame for the war.
“I’m glad somebody finally told Biden to talk about what the hell Ukraine aid is doing,” Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas), a Ukraine aid supporter, said of noting that much of the funding is spent in the U.S. “That’s helpful and it’s absolutely a requirement for some people. It’s also not true of some kinds of aid, especially humanitarian aid.”
Ukraine funding remains a politically toxic issue for House Republicans. Further aid is unpopular with the GOP base and opposed by figures such as former President Donald Trump, making it difficult for many lawmakers to support.
Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), a Ukraine aid supporter, said Biden’s argument might reach some voters, but there are Republican lawmakers who he’ll never reach on Ukraine.
“Two months after the invasion when Biden [said] we’ve got to go all in and help — we have a certain group of people that whatever Biden says they’ve got to do the opposite,” Bacon said. “You could tell that was the turning point. Biden came out and said we want to do this and they were like, not any more.”
Ohio Republican Rep. Warren Davidson sponsored legislation that failed in July, which would have required the administration to define its mission in Ukraine. Wherever the aid is manufactured, he said, the administration needs to be more transparent about where the aid is going and the strategy in supporting Ukraine’s fight.
“What’s the objective? You don’t have to commit to achieving it, you just have to tell me what you’re trying to achieve?” Davidson said. “And then I think we do need some more accountability. The American people are very suspect of where it’s going. They want a little more accountability.”
Ukraine has been striking Russian logistics hubs using Lockheed Martin’s Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System, or GMLRS, that are partially made in Lufkin, Texas — a city of 34,000 people that saw its paper mill and foundry close over the last two decades.
It’s represented by Republican Rep. Pete Sessions, a Ukraine aid supporter, who said Friday that the U.S. has an obligation to protect Ukraine under its post-Cold War security commitments. He was turned off by Biden’s economic appeal.
“That’s the politics, but the reality is we need to do it because it’s the right thing,” Sessions said. “He’s stuck, and I don’t fault him for trying to take a middle road.”
The U.S. has awarded hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts for the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System launchers that fire GMLRS and are made in Camden, Ark., a town of about 10,000 people that’s 100 miles south of Little Rock.
Republican Rep. Bruce Westerman, who represents Camden, said critics of government spending can be surprised to know some of that spending is going back to communities like his.
“I actually had some constituents text me last night and say $100 billion is a lot of money to give away, and I made the point that a lot of that equipment is made in my district,” Westerman said. “Something that even gets missed on foreign food aid is that it’s a lot of money coming back to American producers and manufacturers.
“You can’t divorce it from the fact that it’s government spending that wouldn’t otherwise be happening, but it is government spending going back into local communities that are making this equipment.”
A bigger driver for House Republicans to back Ukraine aid may ultimately be whether they can extract border security concessions from Biden and Senate Democrats. Biden’s supplemental request includes $13.6 billion for security efforts at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Republicans are also seeking border policy changes from the administration, and see a Ukraine funding request as an opportunity for leverage.
“I’d be really surprised if Republicans wanted to let Russia win more than they wanted our own border secure,” Crenshaw said. “So I think that is the grand bargain that needs to happen.”