U.S. Senate passes Ukraine aid bill, House likely to reject it

February 13, 2024 11:03 pm | Updated 11:03 pm IST - Washington

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., signals success to reporters after a divided Senate passed an emergency spending package to provide send military aid to Ukraine and Israel, replenish U.S. weapons systems, and provide food, water and other humanitarian aid to civilians in Gaza, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., signals success to reporters after a divided Senate passed an emergency spending package to provide send military aid to Ukraine and Israel, replenish U.S. weapons systems, and provide food, water and other humanitarian aid to civilians in Gaza, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024. | Photo Credit: AP

The U.S. Senate on Tuesday approved long-delayed funding for Ukraine's war effort, part of a foreign aid package that right-wing House Speaker Mike Johnson has indicated his Republican-led chamber will reject.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers have been negotiating the national security measure for months, but strong opposition from likely Republican 2024 presidential nominee Donald Trump and his allies in Congress still threatens to sink it.

The $95 billion package includes funding for Israel's military and key strategic ally Taiwan, but the lion's share — $60 billion — would help Ukraine restock depleted ammunition supplies, weapons and other crucial needs as it enters a third year of war against Russian invasion.

The legislation, which the Senate voted on early on Tuesday morning and which easily passed 70-29 with cross-party support, is the latest effort in a tortuous process to save U.S. President Joe Biden's policy of leading a Western response to the Russian attack on democratic Ukraine.

A previous Senate Bill negotiated by both parties had also encompassed tough new U.S. border protections aimed at stemming an influx of migration into the United States from Mexico -- a demand from Republicans, who said they would not help Ukraine without first paying attention to the domestic issue.

However, Trump-led Republicans in Congress then killed that bill, leaving the legislature in chaos.

Johnson suggested late Monday that even if Republicans in the Senate backed the Ukraine bill, the party in the lower house will not follow -- unless, again, it comes with border control measures.

"House Republicans were crystal clear from the very beginning of discussions that any so-called national security supplemental legislation must recognize that national security begins at our own border," Johnson said in a statement.

This came despite Johnson previously rejecting the Senate's first bill, which included some of the harshest immigration curbs in decades, but which he said still did not go far enough.

The Republican maneuvers to prevent both border measures and Ukraine aid from passing in Congress follow the lead of Trump, who is campaigning heavily on the border problems -- while opposing help for Ukraine's fight against Russia.

Senate Democrats, led by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, have now set up a major showdown on the issues by getting the foreign aid bill passed and sent to the House.

"Today we make (Russian President) Vladimir Putin regret the day he questioned America's resolve," Schumer said on the Senate floor, adding that if Johnson allowed the bill to go to a House vote, "it will pass with the same strong bipartisan support."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky expressed gratitude for the aid measure's advancement despite its uncertain fate in the House, taking to social media to thank "every US Senator who has supported continued assistance to Ukraine as we fight for freedom, democracy, and the values we all hold dear."

- Republican divisions -

The Republican logjam over the bill comes amid both disunity within the party and desire on the right wing to keep the border an open issue leading into the election.

Given Trump's domination of the party, it meant top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell had to step out of line in marshalling support during the overnight debate ahead of Tuesday's vote.

McConnell had urged his colleagues to reject the Trump-favored isolationist approach and to consider the message it would send if the United States failed to support Ukraine and other democracies.

"Our adversaries want America to decide that reinforcing allies and partners is not in our interest, and that investing in strategic competition is not worth it," McConnell said in a statement after Tuesday's vote.

"Today, on the value of American leadership and strength, history will record that the Senate did not blink."

Trump's acolytes in the Senate, however, only highlighted the divisions among Republicans and how a significant faction of the party is turning inward.

"We must fix our country before devoting more resources to Ukraine," Senator J.D. Vance, a strong Trump backer, said on X. "That's our message, and the fight goes on."

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