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Bill to keep the government running doesn't include aid to Israel or Ukraine

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

The U.S. is expected to avoid yet another government shutdown after the House and Senate both passed a continuing resolution that keeps the government funded into the new year. Now, the resolution does not include war aid for Ukraine or Israel, something President Biden has asked for. White House officials say supporting both is in the country's national interest, but Congress remains divided on that. Joined now by Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware. He serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and he supports funding for both Ukraine and Israel without delay. Senator mentioned how the White House wants to bundle aid together for Ukraine and Israel. House Speaker Mike Johnson says he wants to divide that money. He doubts they have enough Republican votes for Ukraine. Is there any scenario, Senator, in which you would support breaking up the aid?

CHRIS COONS: No. I think we need to promptly take up and pass President Biden's supplemental request. Doing so would allow us to provide assistance to humanitarian needs, to meet the food and fuel and hunger needs of millions of people, not just in Gaza and in Ukraine but across the region, to support Ukraine in their war against Russian aggression, to support Israel, and also to support our Indo-Pacific allies. I think it's in our national security interest, and we should do it promptly right after Thanksgiving when we return to session.

MARTÍNEZ: But if it winds up where this continues, this kind of stalemate continues, wouldn't it be better to get one of the two at least funded, if that's what you want?

COONS: In the Senate, there is no stalemate. There's strong public frequent statements of support from both Republican and Democratic leaders. So in the Senate, where I serve, I think we should take it up, pass it and send it to the House and see if they aren't, in fact, bluffing. I'm hopeful they will, in fact, pass it, given that there is a strong bipartisan majority in support of it.

MARTÍNEZ: So to be clear, both or nothing as far as you're concerned.

COONS: We've actually several times this week voted against moving aid for just one, either Israel or Ukraine. I do think that in the end we will pass them both.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. Now, I wanted to ask you about Israel's war with Hamas. We have a poll, NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, that shows that a growing number of Americans, including a majority of Democratic voters, believe that Israel's military response has been excessive. Senator, what, if anything, concerns you about Israel's military actions in Gaza?

COONS: Well, from the very day that President Biden first spoke about the horrific Hamas attack that killed 1,200 civilians, he has stood for Israel's right of self-defense and urged that Israel be targeted in its response, that it not repeat some of the mistakes that we made as Americans in our war in Iraq, for example, in urban warfare. So, as we've heard from Secretary Blinken, many of us in Congress are concerned about the number of civilian deaths. But a large bipartisan group of senators met with the families of hostages, Americans held hostage by Hamas, yesterday and were reminded that Hamas continues to use Palestinians as human shields for their operations, for their storage facilities of weapons. They long have had a practice of hiding their headquarters and their bunkers and their missiles underneath schools and hospitals.

MARTÍNEZ: So what can be done then to help minimize civilian casualties?

COONS: We can continue to urge our Israeli allies to better target their campaign against Hamas and, frankly, to keep it as brief as is possible. I understand the outrage in Israel against this astonishing and brutal attack by Hamas, but the campaign to make sure that Hamas cannot attack Israel again needs to be as targeted and as effective as possible.

MARTÍNEZ: That poll I mentioned also revealed that younger Americans and people of color, as well as majorities of independents and Republicans, say that the United States should focus more on problems here at home. Senator, how do you convince skeptical Americans that these wars overseas matter to them, too, that they're something that needs to be helped with?

COONS: The core question here is whether or not the United States is a reliable partner and ally. When our president, when our Congress stands up and says, we will be behind you, Ukraine, when you fight against Russian aggression, will we keep our word? Or in a year, year and a half, when we get tired, will we fade and walk away? It does require that we also invest in the United States, in making our economy stronger, jobs here better, prices for the average American lower. And President Biden's leadership is making progress on all of those as well.

MARTÍNEZ: That's United States Senator Chris Coons of Delaware. Senator, thank you very much for your time.

COONS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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