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Biden says Navalny鈥檚 reported death brings new urgency to the need for more US aid to Ukraine

President Joe Biden says he鈥檚 鈥渙utraged鈥 but 鈥渘ot surprised鈥 by reports of the death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and says Russian President Vladimir Putin is 鈥渞esponsible for Navalny鈥檚 death.鈥 (Feb. 16)

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WASHINGTON (AP) 鈥 President Joe Biden said Friday that the apparent death of Russian anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny brings new urgency to the need for Congress to approve tens of billions of dollars for Ukraine to stave off Moscow鈥檚 invasion.

Speaking at the White House, Biden said that no matter the cause, he holds Russian President Vladimir Putin responsible for Navalny鈥檚 death. He added, 鈥淚 hope to God it helps鈥 push U.S. lawmakers to send more aid to Ukraine.

Biden said that 鈥渉istory is watching鈥 lawmakers in the House, which hasn鈥檛 moved to take up a Senate-passed bill that would send funds and armaments to Ukraine, whose troops U.S. officials say are running out of critical munitions on the battlefield.

鈥淭he failure to support Ukraine at this critical moment will never be forgotten,鈥 Biden said. 鈥淎nd the clock is ticking. This has to happen. We have to help now.鈥

Biden said the U.S. had not confirmed Navalny鈥檚 death in a Russian prison above the Arctic Circle, but that he had no reason to doubt it either.

The president sharply criticized House Republicans for letting the chamber enter a two-week recess without moving on the Ukraine funding.

鈥淲hat are they thinking 鈥 my God,鈥 Biden said. 鈥淭his is bizarre and it鈥檚 just reinforcing all of the concern 鈥 I won鈥檛 say panic but real concern 鈥 about the United States being a responsible ally.鈥

Republican Speaker Mike Johnson earlier this week said the House won鈥檛 be 鈥渞ushed鈥 to pass the aid, but on Friday he said Putin was 鈥渁 vicious dictator and the world knows he is likely directly responsible for the sudden death of his most prominent political opponent.鈥

鈥淲e must be clear that Putin will be met with united opposition,鈥 Johnson, R-La., said in a statement. 鈥淎s Congress debates the best path forward to support Ukraine, the United States, and our partners, must be using every means available to cut off Putin鈥檚 ability to fund his unprovoked war in Ukraine and aggression against the Baltic states.鈥

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Friday, Feb. 16, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Friday, Feb. 16, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden, walk to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House, Friday, Feb. 16, 2024, in Washington, enroute to East Palestine, Ohio. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden, walk to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House, Friday, Feb. 16, 2024, in Washington, enroute to East Palestine, Ohio. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Johnson鈥檚 plan for moving the aid is unclear. While the speaker has said he personally supports aiding Ukraine, he leads a far-right majority that is solidly aligned with former President Donald Trump, the front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination who opposes the legislation. Republicans have argued that Congress needs to first pass legislation to stem migration at the border, but Johnson and GOP House lawmakers immediately rejected a bipartisan Senate compromise on the border.

In a statement Friday, Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries called for an up or down vote on the Senate-passed bill.

鈥淲e must never allow Vladimir Putin and Russia to win,鈥 Jeffries said. 鈥淭his is not a moment for platitudes and empty promises. It is a time to choose.鈥

The Senate passed the Ukraine package, which also includes money for Israel and Taiwan, on a 70-29 vote Tuesday. Republicans were deeply divided on the bill, with 22 voting for it and 26 voting against. Some of the strongest GOP opponents argued that Ukraine can鈥檛 win the war and that there should be a settlement with Russia, an argument Putin himself has made.

On Friday, Republicans renewed their criticism of Putin 鈥 but some suggested it was up to Biden to respond.

鈥淎lexei Navalny died as he lived: a champion of the Russian people and a brave voice of dissent in Vladimir Putin鈥檚 Russia,鈥 posted Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who voted against the aid. 鈥淧resident Biden pledged 鈥榙evastating鈥 consequences should Navalny die in prison; now he must follow through. America can鈥檛 afford another erased red line.鈥

Lawmakers who have pushed for the Ukraine legislation blamed the Republicans who have sided with Trump as he has urged its defeat.

鈥淭he Speaker鈥檚 loyalty to Trump鈥檚 Putin is foolish & dangerous,鈥 posted Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat, on X.

North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis, who voted for the package, said that Navalny laid down his life fighting for a country he loved and that 鈥淧utin is a murderous, paranoid dictator.鈥

鈥淗istory will not be kind to those in America who make apologies for Putin and praise Russian autocracy,鈥 Tillis posted. 鈥淣or will history be kind to America鈥檚 leaders who stay silent because they fear backlash from online pundits.鈥

Biden, eyeing a likely general election rematch against Trump this November, said American presidents from Harry Truman on are 鈥渞olling over in their graves鈥 hearing Trump鈥檚 comments suggesting that the U.S. might not defend its NATO allies who fail to meet their defense spending targets if attacked.

鈥淎s long as I鈥檓 president, America stands by its sacred commitment to our allies,鈥 Biden said.

Zeke is AP鈥檚 chief White House correspondent