Biden declares Putin, Hamas threats to democracy in prime-time speech

President Biden delivered a prime-time speech Thursday to rally Americans to support the wars in Israel and Ukraine as he prepared to ask Congress for $100 billion in aid for the beleaguered nations.

In his remarks, Mr. Biden argued that the two wars in other parts of the world threaten to undermine democratic stability and put U.S. national security at risk.

The president compared Russian President Vladimir Putin, who launched the invasion of Ukraine, to the Islamist organization Hamas, which carried out the surprise Oct. 7 terrorist attack on Israel. 

He said both want to “completely annihilate a neighboring democracy.”

“History has taught us when terrorists don’t pay a price for their terror, when dictators don’t pay a price for their aggression, they cause more chaos and death and more destruction,” Mr. Biden said. “They keep going and the cost and threats the American people keep rising.”

War has raged in Ukraine since Russia invaded in February 2022. Israel and Hamas have been at war since Hamas launched a mass attack on civilians earlier this month.

The effort to combine the aid for the two conflicts into a single package faces an uncertain reception on Capitol Hill. Support for the continuing costs of the Ukraine war effort was softening before the Hamas attacks.

The White House is teeing up a supplemental funding request, the details of which are still being sketched out, although it will reportedly also include funds for Taiwan and to bolster security along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Congress has been paralyzed for more than two weeks without an elected House speaker. Republicans have been unable to elect a new speaker since Kevin McCarthy, California Democrat, was ousted this month. Without a speaker, the House cannot consider aid to Israel or any other legislation.

Congress has already provided billions of dollars in financial assistance to Ukraine since the Russian invasion. Recent polling has shown American voters are becoming increasingly skeptical of the funds being sent to Ukraine.

Ahead of his speech, Mr. Biden spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. A White House readout of the call said the president underscored America’s “continued commitment to Ukraine.”

Mr. Biden’s remarks also followed his whirlwind trip to Israel, where he pledged to send $100 million in humanitarian assistance for Hamas-controlled Gaza and Palestinians in the West Bank.

The aid will come from existing funding already approved by Congress, the White House said.

The Gaza Health Ministry, a branch of the Hamas-led government, said in its latest update that 3,785 people had been killed in the territory since the war began. Nearly 12,500 others were injured, and another 1,300 people were believed buried under rubble, health authorities said.

More than 1,400 people in Israel have been killed, mostly civilians slain during Hamas’ deadly incursion on Oct. 7. Another 200 or so Israelis and foreign nationals were abducted and held hostage by Hamas.

The State Department once again raised its estimate of how many American citizens were caught up in the violence. U.S. officials have confirmed that at least 32 Americans were killed in Israel.

Department spokesman Matthew Miller told a briefing that another 11 U.S. citizens were still unaccounted for. He called the work to locate them “ongoing.”

The department also issued an unusual worldwide alert for American travelers to be on the lookout given the violence in the Middle East and the potential for spillover into other countries. Americans abroad should “exercise increased caution” because of the potential for violence at various locations, including U.S. embassies and consulates.

Mr. Biden spoke on a day of fresh violence in the region while Palestinians and Israelis were in something of a holding pattern after nearly two weeks of clashes and threats.

Israeli fighter jets continued to pound targets inside Hamas-controlled Gaza as Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told Israeli troops to “get organized [and] be ready” for what is believed to be an imminent ground incursion into the Palestinian enclave.

Palestinian militants continued a salvo of missiles from inside Gaza targeting Israeli sites, and there were reports of fresh violence in the larger West Bank territory, controlled by the rival Palestinian Authority.

Most Palestinians in Gaza spent the day waiting for news that a deal to open a critical border crossing with Egypt would be implemented after Israel imposed a total blockade on food, water, fuel and other essentials into the small, densely populated enclave.

Many of Gaza’s residents are down to one meal a day and drinking dirty water, The Associated Press reported.

Egypt’s state-controlled press reported that the first trucks carrying aid could cross the border Friday under a deal partially negotiated by Mr. Biden on his lightning visit to Israel this week.

More than 200 trucks carrying some 3,000 tons of aid are lined up near the Rafah border crossing, officials from the Red Crescent for North Sinai told reporters.

The effort has been complicated by Israel’s insistence that only Gaza civilians, not Hamas fighters, can have access to humanitarian aid.

Israel continued to face threats on other fronts Thursday. It conducted a rare airstrike in the West Bank targeting a Palestinian refugee camp where militants and Israeli soldiers clashed the night before.

AP reported that Hezbollah militants in Lebanon claimed to have fired missiles into northern Israel, hitting a kibbutz.

The Israeli military said no one was injured and responded with shelling on border areas in Lebanon.

During his time in Israel, Mr. Biden expressed firm solidarity with the Israelis but also bluntly warned that they would lose “credibility worldwide” if their attacks deepened the humanitarian crisis.

The speech Thursday was only the second time Mr. Biden has addressed the nation from the Oval Office. In June, he spoke from there about a bipartisan deal he reached with Congress to avoid defaulting on the nation’s debt.

• Mike Glenn contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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