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Exclusive: Congresswoman says Biden should ease restrictions on Ukraine’s use of US weaponry on Russian soil

Sought after decision by U.S. president comes as he faces mounting domestic pressure while hosting historic NATO summit

by Owen Racer July 8, 2024 9:05 PM 6 min read
U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), is interviewed at her office on Capitol Hill on Thursday, May 27th, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Cheryl Diaz Meyer/Star Tribune via Getty Images)

Sought after decision by U.S. president comes as he faces mounting domestic pressure while hosting historic NATO summit

by Owen Racer July 8, 2024 9:05 PM 6 min read
This audio is created with AI assistance

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The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden should further lift restrictions on Ukraine’s use of American weaponry for strikes against targets on Russian soil, a ranking member of the U.S. House of Representative’s defense committee said.

In an exclusive interview with the Kyiv Independent, Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-Minnesota) said that she and other House legislators will raise the issue with the White House this week as world leaders gather in Washington, D.C. for the NATO summit and Biden faces ongoing pressure to bow out of the presidential race.

“It needs to be lifted a bit,” Rep. McCollum told the Kyiv Independent. “I want soldiers of Ukraine to have a level of defense that allows them to do their mission.”

Marking a major shift more than two years into Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. late this spring followed some European countries, including Germany, France, and the U.K., in allowing Ukraine for the first time to use their weaponry to conduct strikes on Russian territory in border regions of Ukraine’s northeast.

The policy reversal allowed for the use of U.S. weaponry as advanced as the American HIMARS multiple-launch rocket systems and the European equivalent. Ukraine wasted no time in exploiting the decision by quickly conducting cross-border strikes to pre-empt further Russian air strikes and incursions, such as the recent push by Russian troops into the northeastern Kharkiv Oblast.

But the move had stopped short of allowing Ukraine to use the more powerful and longer-range ATACM rockets the HIMARS system can fire.

Rep. McCollum spoke with the Kyiv Independent just before Russia on July 8 carried out its latest massive air strikes on Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities after returning from a meeting with Zelensky in Kyiv and before Congress returned to session Monday after a week-long recess.

Ambassador of the United States to Ukraine Bridget A. Brink (L) stands with members of the Congressional delegation (from 2L to R) Betty McCollum, Mike Turner, Ronny Jackson, John Joyce and Tony Gonzalez during a press conference in Kyiv on July 1, 2024, amid the Russian invasion in Ukraine. (Anatolii Stepanov/AFP via Getty Images)

During this Kyiv meeting with a small bipartisan Congressional delegation, U.S. restrictions on Ukraine’s use of American weapons to strike within Russia were discussed.

Rep. McCollum said that Zelensky was straightforward in what his army needed to further protect his country, help the Ukrainian military hold positions, and retain hope of pushing Russia’s forces out from some 18% of Ukrainian territory in the east and south that remains occupied.

“He speaks directly — as he should — to members of Congress because he is representing a sovereign country under attack,” she said.

The Ukrainian lives that were lost when Congress stalled for six months before passing nearly $60 billion in aid for Ukraine have served as a lesson for the governing body that has future Ukraine spending bills to mull, Rep. McCollum said. She declined to predict how smoothly U.S. legislators will be able to approve future support packages.

Despite the unknowns of what a second Donald Trump presidency could mean for aid to Ukraine, Rep. McCollum said the urgency with which she hopes the restrictions will be lifted has nothing to do with this autumn’s U.S. presidential election. She believes they should be removed right away.

Trump and his isolationist MAGA base within the Republican party have questioned the prospects of future U.S. assistance for Ukraine. Trump has himself expressed various views ranging from assistance being granted only on a loan basis, to suggestions that Ukraine may have to concede territory to Russia.

Trump, without providing details, has also boasted that he could end the war even before taking over as president, adding that Russia’s invasion would not have occurred under his leadership.

A lot of questions

President Biden, meanwhile, repeatedly vowed to stay in the presidential race over the weekend, despite mounting calls for him to step aside after appearing mentally confused during a recent televised debate with Trump.

He defended his mental fitness and ability to serve in a 22-minute ABC News interview on July 5, where he tried to reassure voters by revisiting his record.

“I’m the guy that shut Putin down,” Biden said.

So far, five House Democrats have said Biden should step aside, while many others have expressed concern.

“I have a lot of questions,” Rep. McCollum, herself a Democrat, told the Kyiv Independent when asked whether Biden should stay in the race. “We need to make sure that President Biden is up for the job.”

From questionable radio appearances to swing-state campaign stops, every appearance by Biden is viewed as carrying with it the chance to make a detrimental impact on his campaign.

“We will see as we find out more about what could take place in the future,” McCollum said, who represents Minnesota, where Democratic incumbent Rep. Angie Craig, who is in a battleground district, called for Biden to step aside last weekend.

U.S. House of Representative member Betty McCollum speaks during a press conference in Kyiv on July 1, 2024, amid the Russian invasion in Ukraine. (Anatolii Stepanov/AFP via Getty Images)

Representative Hakeem Jeffries, Democrat of New York and the minority leader met virtually with leading Democrats on Sunday to discuss Biden’s candidacy. Six top House Democrats said it’s time for Biden to withdraw in the private remarks to colleagues, according to reporting from the New York Times.

“We can all have one bad day of work at work, unfortunately when you have one bad day at work during one of the most important moments of your life — the debate — that the world is watching, there are a lot of questions and speculation to it,” McCollum told the Kyiv Independent.

NATO Summit


At the NATO summit this week in Washington, D.C., Ukraine is expected to receive a commitment of nearly $40 billion in financial assistance for 2025 from alliance leaders. The announcement could be a direct attempt to mitigate the risk of a second Trump administration’s opposition to aid.

“President Biden remains committed to Ukraine,” Rep. McCollum said when asked if there are any worries to be had with continued support for Ukraine in a second Biden administration before quickly pivoting to an anecdote about how Congress rallied against Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s (R-Ga.) opposition to U.S. aid for Ukraine.

How committed Biden is could surface this week during his packed schedule in D.C. at the NATO Summit, where he will face foreign allies again.

Rep. McCollum said she’ll certainly be raising the issue of restrictions on U.S. weapons at the NATO Summit in Washington, D.C. this week, which celebrates 75 years of the alliance that recently welcomed Sweden this March. The White House said President Biden may hold a bilateral meeting with President Zelensky during the July 9-11 summit.

“We are looking for some serious and strong decisions from the Washington Summit,” President Zelensky told reporters last week.

However, it remains unclear how much Biden will be able to focus on continued aid to Ukraine at the Washington Summit, where it is reported that a NATO office in Kyiv will be announced.

“I guess a good way to judge me is you're going to have now the NATO conference here in the United States next week,” Mr. Biden said in his interview with ABC News on Friday “Come listen. See what they say.”

After the NATO-Ukraine Council meets on July 10, Biden will conclude the summit with a solo press conference.

Speculation looms that the news conference could determine his political fate after over a week of panic in the Democratic party following the president's party-rattling debate performance.

White House: Biden may hold bilateral meeting with Zelensky during NATO summit
“And while the president will have quite a busy schedule given his commitment as the host of the summit, we’re working to set up several bilats and meetings with various world leaders on the margins of the summit, including President Zelensky, again, as I mentioned earlier,” the official said. ’And…

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