(Corrects May 10th story to fix attribution in seventh paragraph.)
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Debate over measures to help Afghan evacuees in the US is the latest speed bump in congressional negotiations over a bill to aid Ukraine during Russia’s invasion.
House Democratic leaders aimed to hold a vote late Tuesday on a $39.8 billion Ukraine aid bill, though talks continued into the afternoon as lawmakers struggled to finish work on the package.
President Joe Biden’s requested language would create a path to permanent legal residence for Afghan nationals who were evacuated to the US between July 31, 2021, and Sept. 30, 2022. Many of those Afghans helped American military forces during the war before the US withdrew in August, and lawmakers have made several efforts to pass legislation to ensure they have long-term protections in the US.
Lawmakers are debating whether the measures should be included in the Ukraine package, Senate Appropriations Vice Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) told reporters Tuesday.
“It’s been a problem, hasn’t been worked out yet,” Shelby said, though he added talks “are moving in the right direction.”
Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) raised broad concerns about the Ukraine bill in a Tuesday opinion piece in The Hill, and singled out the Afghan provisions as unrelated to the bill’s purpose.
Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) said he’s still reviewing the language but stressed that providing a pathway to legal status for Afghan evacuees is a national security imperative. “If we don’t take care of them and we need local assistance in another conflict, people won’t help,” he said.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) called it “heartbreaking” that some Republicans oppose the measures. Democrats would be willing to negotiate precise language, but “there doesn’t seem to be an interest in negotiating by Republicans,” he said.
Murphy and other Democrats have tried and failed to get the Afghan evacuee provisions in several must-pass bills, including fiscal 2022 appropriations. More than 36,000 Afghans evacuated to the US lack a clear path to permanent status, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
House leaders plan to finish debate on the Ukraine measure and hold a vote between 8:15 p.m. and 8:45 p.m. Tuesday, according to a notice published by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer‘s (D-Md.) office. The package will first be sent to the House Rules Committee to set up floor debate, rather than using an expedited process for legislation that has near-unanimous support.
Lawmakers have other complaints besides the Afghan status issue, though it’s unclear if any will derail the bill. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he wants the bill to do more to enable the Department of Justice to go after Russian oligarchs. The bill includes $67 million for the department’s “KleptoCapture Task Force.”
Graham also said he wants the bill to designate Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism, saying it would “do as much to help the path to victory as anything else.”
To contact the reporters on this story: Ellen M. Gilmer in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org; Jack Fitzpatrick in Washington at email@example.com; Zach C. Cohen in Washington at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org; Emily Wilkins in Washington at email@example.com