Senator Murray Q&A with Secretaries Blinken and Austin at Hearing on National Security Supplemental Request

***WATCH and READ: Senator Murray’s opening remarks***


Washington, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, gaveled in a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing with Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III on the President’s national security supplemental funding request. Her question-and-answer with the Secretaries follows:


Chair Murray: We have a lot of urgent challenges getting aid to Israel as soon as possible, continuing our support for Ukraine, and addressing urgent humanitarian needs globally.


Some of my colleagues in the House, and a few in the Senate, are pushing to provide only the emergency military funding for Israel—and not the rest of the President’s request in this security supplemental. 


Secretary Blinken and Secretary Austin, I’d like each of you to address this question: why is it so important that we provide supplemental funding for Ukraine, the Indo-Pacific, and humanitarian assistance in addition to military aid to Israel? 


Secretary Blinken, I’ll begin with you. 


Secretary Blinken: Thank you very much, Chair. I think it’s very important to understand that the elements of this request work together as a package. As you know, the defense industrial base operates in a complex way; it’s an interdependent unit. Making these investments together allows us to do what’s needed to strengthen the defense industrial base and to seize the benefits and efficiencies that come from making these investments together, rather than making them piecemeal.


We also know, as you heard, that increasingly, Russia and Iran are working together to challenge our leadership, to hem us in globally, to pose a growing threat to our own security as well as to that of our allies and partners. They’ve been partners in a devastating war in Syria, and now we have Iranian proxies firing missiles from Syria in Northern Israel. Russia could stop this, but it doesn’t—instead, to the contrary, its government is hosting Hamas for talks in Moscow, Iran is sending UAVs to Russia to attack Ukrainian civilians. So, we’re seeing the profound connections here. 


What happens in Ukraine, what happens in the Middle East, also matters for the Indo-Pacific. Beyond Europe, we know that our allies, as well as our adversaries, as well as our competitors, are watching that conflict. They are watching our response. The global impacts of Russia’s unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine further stress the importance of ensuring that the Indo-Pacific does not learn the wrong lessons from these conflicts. So, the funding request that we put before you is vital to securing a free and open Indo-Pacific in the face of mounting challenges in that region, the threat in and around the international rules-based order, including things like freedom of navigation. 


In other words, to put it succinctly, for our adversaries—be they states or non-states—this is all one fight. And we have to respond in a way that recognizes that. If we start to peel off pieces of this package, they’ll see that, they’ll understand that we are playing whack-a-mole while they cooperate increasingly and pose an ever-greater threat to our security as well as to that of our allies and partners. 


And one final thing. I think when it comes to the humanitarian assistance, and we can come back to this—it’s first and foremost vital because this is who we are. We know that when it comes down to it, in each and every one of these conflicts, people are suffering. Men, women, and children. Parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, grandparents. And I think it’s profoundly who we are to want to do everything we can to assist them, to try to lift some of the horrific burden that they’re bearing from being caught in the midst of conflict. At the same time, it’s vitally important as a strategic proposition that we provide the assistance that we can to help people in need. We’ve seen Hamas and other groups play the siren song of nihilism to try to attract people to their perverted cause. We want to make sure that we have a better response, that we have a better answer across the board. That’s part of the strategic proposition, as well as one that’s profoundly humanitarian. 


Chair Murray: Secretary Austin? 


Secretary Austin: Thanks, Chair Murray. I think it's important to remind ourselves that what happens in Ukraine, and what happens in Israel matters not to just Ukraine and Israel, it matters to us. It affects our national security, as well. We also have to remind ourselves that these countries are in a fight. They're fighting every day, and there are people dying every day. And in Ukraine, Putin continues to attack civilians, and commit war crimes that are despicable. And so these countries urgently need the resources to ensure that they can continue to defend their sovereign territory.


You know, in Ukraine, Putin has felt that he could wait us out. And that's part of his strategy, the main part of his strategy. He feels that the West will get tired of supporting Ukraine, and he'll soon have his way. If that's the case, if we don't support Ukraine then Putin wins, but Putin will not stop in Ukraine. We know that, we all know that. And so I think it's important to do what's necessary to support Ukraine and Israel, and to help them defend their sovereign territory. 


But as the Secretary said, as Secretary Blinken said, this is also an investment in our defense industrial base. It helps us replenish our stockpiles, and gives us additional depth and agility that helps us do what we have done over the years, over the centuries, over the decades, excuse me, around the world. And so I think this is very important that we provide the support, and it's important that we provide the support now to both in both cases. Thank you. 


Chair Murray: Thank you, and if my committee members will indulge me, I just want to ask Secretary Blinken, on the $10 billion dollars in humanitarian assistance, some of my colleagues have raised concern that that could end up in the wrong hands, including Hamas. 


Can you just walk the committee through the reason why you requested it, and how you are confident that if aid is provided in places like Gaza, it will not end up in the hands of terrorists? 


Secretary Blinken: Thank you very much. First, let’s be clear that the needs are desperate. The needs for the most basic things–food, water, medicine, fuel. All of these are literally a matter of life and death, just to focus in on Gaza. And we know that they are running out. Hospitals don’t have the fuel they need to operate. Men, women, and children displaced–well over a million people displaced in Gaza, about half of them in the care of UNWRA right now, desperately need the most basic things in order to survive. So, from day one, we have been working with the Israeli government, with Egypt, with the UN agencies, as well as with other actors, to try to make sure that assistance could get in to people who need it in Gaza–to get it in a way that doesn’t go to the people who don’t need it, and that’s Hamas.


So, we’ve set up a system where assistance is coming through Rafah, the gate between Egypt and Gaza. The assistance is checked by Israel at a site that has been established to do that, so that every truck that goes in is verified by Israel, as well as by the Egyptian authorities. The trucks go in, these are UN trucks, they go in, they connect to other UN trucks on the other side of the line in Gaza. These trucks then go to distribution facilities that are run by UN agencies. The supplies are then taken from those agencies to various points—to hospitals, to bakeries because bread is critical, and to other inputs. 


Throughout this process, we have an ability, and others have an ability, to track where the assistance is going. We’re then able to do monitoring on the other end by contacting the designated recipients, to ensure that it’s actually gotten to where it’s supposed to go, and not been diverted. 


To date, we don’t have reports—either from the UN or from Israel—that this assistance has been diverted from its intended recipients, but it’s something that we’re going to track very closely. 


Can I promise you in this Committee that there will be 100 percent delivery to the designated recipients? No. There will inevitably be some spillage, we haven’t seen it to date, but I think we have to anticipate that. But the overwhelming, overwhelming majority of the assistance thus far is getting to people who need it—and we need more.


We’ve gotten up to over 50 trucks a day. Before the conflict in Gaza, before Hamas’s aggression against Israel, and its response, the UN and other agencies, and other organizations providing relief, were sending in between 500 to 800 trucks a day. Right now, we’re up to almost 60, we’re trying to get to 100 this week. That is the bare minimum of what’s needed. But we’ve got to do it, and we believe we have mechanisms in place to make sure that that assistance gets to people who need it, not to Hamas.


Chair Murray: Thank you.