The U.S. military will establish a temporary port in the Gaza Strip to deliver humanitarian aid to starving Palestinians, while continuing to send weapons to Israel, President Joe Biden confirmed in his State of the Union address Thursday.

“No U.S. boots will be on the ground,” Biden said. “A temporary pier will enable a massive increase in the amount of humanitarian assistance getting into Gaza every day. And Israel must also do its part. Israel must allow more aid into Gaza and ensure that humanitarian workers aren’t caught in the cross fire.

“To the leadership of Israel I say this: Humanitarian assistance cannot be a secondary consideration or a bargaining chip.”

Senior administration officials told reporters earlier Thursday the mission would route humanitarian aid through Cyprus to the temporary port in Gaza. The White House is also pushing Israel and Egypt to allow more aid through the land crossings at Rafah and Kerem Shalom.

The announcement, which drew bipartisan applause from lawmakers gathered, came amid calls from Biden for Congress to pass his long-stalled foreign aid bill to arm Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan.

The Senate passed the $95 billion foreign aid plan by a 70-29 vote in February. It includes $14 billion in Israel military aid, $48 billion in security assistance for Ukraine and $4 billion to arm Taiwan.

Israel receives an annual $3.8 billion in U.S. military aid, but the White House has said the Defense Department lacks the replenishment funds needed to continue arming Ukraine from U.S. stockpiles.

There’s also $2.4 billion in the bill for U.S. Central Command to respond to the uptick in attacks on American forces since the Israel-Hamas war began in October 2023; as well as $542 million for U.S. Indo-Pacific Command in response to its fiscal 2024 unfunded priorities list.

House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., has so far refused to put the bill on the floor amid growing resistance to additional Ukraine aid from Republican lawmakers as well as opposition from former President Donald Trump, the frontrunner in the GOP presidential primary race.

“Now assistance to Ukraine is being blocked by those who want to walk away from our world leadership,” said Biden, invoking former Republican President Ronald Reagan. “Now my predecessor tells Putin ‘do whatever the hell you want.”

The reference to Trump’s remarks at a campaign rally last month in which the former president voiced frustration with some NATO allies underspending on defense drew “boos” from Republicans in the crowd.

“Send me the bipartisan National Security Bill. History is watching,” Biden said, staring down Republican members of Congress who have opposed the measure. “If the United States walks away now, it will put Ukraine at risk, Europe at risk, the free world at risk, emboldening others who wish to do us harm.”

Biden also promised a strong response to other national security threats, including strikes to degrade Houthi capabilities in the Red Sea. “As commander in chief, I will not hesitate to direct further measures to protect our people and military personnel.”

Despite limited details about the plan for a humanitarian port, the idea drew immediate praise from Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I., and fellow panel member Angus King, I-Maine, who last week urged the administration to deploy a Navy hospital ship to the region.

“The civilian suffering in Gaza must be alleviated, and a maritime aid route will enable large quantities of food, shelter, and medical supplies to be delivered to those who need it most,” the pair said in a statement. “This temporary port, along with the ongoing airdrop campaign, will help ease the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.”

Bryant Harris is the Congress reporter for Defense News. He has covered U.S. foreign policy, national security, international affairs and politics in Washington since 2014. He has also written for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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