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Sen. Michael Bennet on Ukraine

DAVID GURA, HOST:

Although aid to Ukraine is not part of that stopgap funding bill that passed last night, congressional leadership, both Democrats and Republicans, promised to take it up in the coming days. President Biden addressed that commitment earlier today.

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JOE BIDEN: I hope my friends on the other side keep their word about support for Ukraine. They said they were going to support Ukraine in a separate vote. We cannot, under any circumstances, allow American support for Ukraine to be interrupted.

GURA: Democratic Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, who ended up supporting the spending bill, delayed the vote on that legislation until that agreement was made. Senator Bennet joins me now from Colorado. Senator Bennet, what did you hear from leaders, both Democrats and Republicans, that led you to change your mind in those hours after the House approved this legislation?

MICHAEL BENNET: Thank you for having me. What I heard was that they - as they said in their letter, they keenly understand the importance of American leadership here. They're committed to strengthening it from Europe to the Indo-Pacific when it comes to Ukraine and that we're all going to work together to get a vote. And it was on that basis that I removed my objection.

GURA: Given what has played out in Congress over the last few weeks and, indeed, the last few days, how confident are you that there won't be a reduction or a lapse in funding for Ukraine?

BENNET: Well, that's exactly my concern is that this is a case - we overlook lots of things that we don't do as Americans because of our institutional failures in Congress. And this is one of those times when we can't afford to have an institutional failure. I think this is beyond politics. You know, if we turn our back on Ukraine, we know from President Zelenskyy that Europe will turn its back on Ukraine, and they will lose the war. So this is - in my judgment, this is beyond the usual politics of whether we stay home or whether we - you know, stay in Washington or whether we go home, whether we're going to have a fight about something and put it off for another day. The stakes are real. We're playing literally with live ammunition, and I can't predict whether we're going to do it. I just hope that the letter last night helps solidify the bipartisan commitment to try to get this done.

GURA: Over in the House, you have a Republican saying he wants to try to oust Kevin McCarthy from his role as House speaker. How could that fight complicate Congress' effort here to address aid to Ukraine?

BENNET: Well, I think I could imagine it becoming very complicated. I can imagine people over there trying to make, you know, Speaker McCarthy's speakership, you know, on the Republican side contingent to his preventing Ukraine funding from coming to a vote on the floor - I mean, these are the kinds of things that are hard to predict 45 days out. I think the answer to that is to make sure that people of goodwill on both sides of the aisle are pushing together between now and then to make sure they're - we're not in a last-minute fire drill like we were yesterday, when the Ukraine aid literally dropped out on the last day of this discussion. And I thought it was critical for us to take a beat before we left, if - to say nothing else, just to recommit to each other that we're going to get this done.

GURA: Very quickly here, we've been talking about the Ukraine aid, but what's your sense of what happens here over the next 45 days to prevent another situation like we faced this weekend, where there was this 11th-hour debate and vote on spending?

BENNET: Well, I think we started the debate last night. And so we won't be, you know, having that debate in its first iteration when we get together to do this in 45 days. And I think I've already had Republicans and Democrats reaching out yesterday and today on this to underscore how important this is to them. And we're going to have to make sure that the House of Representatives follows through with us. I think that's going to be the most challenging part, the most difficult part, but we cannot fail.

GURA: That's Democrat Michael Bennet, the senior senator from Colorado. Senator Bennet, thank you very much for the time. I appreciate it.

BENNET: Thanks for having me. I appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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