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Biden speaks on Air Force One

Biden, Senate set stage for national security funding package

When President Joe Biden addresses the nation tonight, he won’t just be talking about the war in Israel.

Biden will use the Oval Office speech to make a broader case for his forthcoming supplemental funding request. That request will touch on a number of national-security priorities — from Europe to the Middle East to the Indo-Pacific. As we reported this week, the package is expected to come in at around $100 billion.

Senators from both parties see the White House’s announcement — a presidential address on the U.S. response to Hamas’ attacks on Israel and Russia’s assault on Ukraine — as a necessary effort to show the violent conflicts are part of a broader struggle.

“If Putin’s successful in Ukraine, he’ll keep going. It’ll be a green light for China to attack Taiwan. And if Iran comes out of this mass attack on Israel stronger, not weaker, then there will be more coming from Iran,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told us. “So the outcome of these conflicts matter greatly to our national security.”

Biden’s speech also comes a day after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made a similar argument when asked about the effort to pair the two into one funding package — that the wars in Israel and Ukraine are “interconnected.”

While McConnell has been critical of what he calls Biden’s slow transfer of sophisticated American weapons to Ukraine, he and the president are on the same page when it comes to the importance of U.S. support for Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan.

Republicans who support all three — an increasingly rare bunch given the conservative opposition to Ukraine aid — are starting to call out their colleagues more directly for singling out Ukraine for criticism.

“Intellectually, I’ve been challenging them to explain to me why they support Israel but not Ukraine — beyond domestic politics as their reason,” Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) told us. “I’m open to a thoughtful response to that. But I haven’t really heard it.”

Conservatives who oppose Ukraine aid, meanwhile, see the joining of Israel and Taiwan funding with Ukraine as an effort to bully them into backing the least popular of the three — Ukraine.

“It’s probably, frankly, a little realpolitik,” Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), a Ukraine opponent, said of the strategy. “I think they’re trying to take something where there’s broad public support — Israel — and trying to get Ukraine with it and do it all at one time, and not have a separate package where they have to talk about the merits of Ukraine.”

Classified Israel briefing: Senators who attended a classified briefing on the Israel war Wednesday told us they still have no clarity on Iran’s possible role in the planning of Hamas’ terror attacks on Israel.

According to multiple attendees, top officials told senators that while Hamas couldn’t exist without Tehran, the U.S. intelligence community is still assessing Iran’s specific part — if any — in the planning of the horrific attacks on Israel.

“The issue of what [Iran] knew and how much about this attack — it’s still being debated,” Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) told us following the briefing.

But Sullivan called out the Biden team for what he dubbed an “appeasement” strategy toward Iran, calling it a “shit show.” Sullivan is referring to the administration’s previous attempts to resurrect the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which Jack Lew — the ambassador-designate to Israel — signaled Wednesday is no longer viable.

Multiple senators also indicated to us after the briefing that they expect the administration will soon publicly release intelligence information proving Israel didn’t bomb the hospital in Gaza City as initially alleged. The briefers emphasized that misinformation about the tragedy is dangerous because it has fueled unrest in the region.

“Clearly there are some press outlets that are not friendly to the U.S. or not friendly at all to Israel that are simply not showing or telling the full story,” Intelligence Committee Chair Mark Warner (D-Va.) told us. “We can rebut that by being more forward-leaning on the intel.”

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) said bluntly that the public should be able to see the information that led Biden and senior administration officials to conclude that Israel wasn’t responsible for the deadly incident.

“I think that’s forthcoming,” Tillis added. “We need to lay it out there with pictures, graphs and charts. And I think that ultimately the administration will do that.”

— Andrew Desiderio

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