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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Senate passes aid to Ukraine, but fate is uncertain in a hostile House



Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) gives a thumbs up as the Senate votes to pass a long-awaited foreign aid package for Ukraine and Israel early Tuesday morning, Feb. 13, 2024. (Anna Rose Layden/The New York Times)

By Karoun Demirjian


The Senate passed a long-awaited foreign aid package for Ukraine and Israel early Tuesday morning, delivering a bipartisan endorsement of the legislation after months of negotiations, dire battlefield warnings and political mudslinging. But the measure faced a buzz saw of opposition in the House, where Republican resistance threatened to kill it.


The 70-29 vote reflected a critical mass of support in Congress for the $95 billion emergency aid legislation and for continuing to arm Ukraine in its fight against Russian aggression. The measure would provide an additional $60.1 billion for Ukraine — which would bring the total U.S. investment in the war effort to more than $170 billion — as well as $14.1 billion for Israel’s war against Hamas and almost $10 billion for humanitarian aid for civilians in conflict zones, including Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.


But it also splintered Republicans and foretold a bumpy road ahead in the GOP-led House, where the speaker suggested late Monday that he would not act on it.


Twenty-two Senate Republicans voted with almost all Democrats for the bill — five more than had helped it over a final procedural hurdle on Monday night — while the rest of the party argued against continuing to fund a foreign nation’s battle to protect its sovereignty without first cracking down on an influx of migration into the United States across its border with Mexico.


The vote took place after an all-night Senate session in which a parade of Republican opponents made speeches denouncing various aspects of the bill.


Republican hostility to the measure has been egged on by former President Donald Trump, who encouraged GOP senators to reject an earlier version that would have included a bipartisan border security deal, and by Speaker Mike Johnson.


“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 Monday night, adding: “In the absence of having received any single border policy change from the Senate, the House will have to continue to work its own will on these important matters.”


His comments suggested that the foreign aid bill’s only path through the House may be for a bipartisan coalition like the one in the Senate — including more mainstream, national security-minded Republicans — to come together and use extraordinary measures to force action on it.


“If we want the world to remain a safe place for freedom, for democratic principles, for our future prosperity, then America must lead the way — and with this bill, the Senate declares that American leadership will not waver, will not falter, will not fail,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the majority leader, said after the vote.


Later, in a news conference at the Capitol, he laid out the stakes should the bill falter across the rotunda.


“Now it’s up to the House: Meet this moment, do the right thing and save democracy,” Schumer said. “If the hard right kills this bill, it would be an enormous gift to Vladimir Putin. It would be a betrayal of our partners and allies, and an abandonment of our service members.”


Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the minority leader who has vocally championed aiding Ukraine, celebrated the vote as a triumph over the skeptics in his own party — though he refrained from directly challenging Johnson to put the bill on the House floor.


“The Senate understands the responsibilities of America’s national security and will not neglect them,” McConnell said in a statement after the vote. “History settles every account. And today, on the value of American leadership and strength, history will record that the Senate did not blink.”


Still, McConnell’s stance was a break with a majority of Republicans in Congress, who have repudiated the measure, reflecting a turn away from the party’s traditional hawkish posture and belief in projecting U.S. power and democratic principles around the world.


Trump in particular has railed against the legislation from the campaign trail. In recent days, he has argued on social media that it was “stupid” for the United States to offer foreign aid instead of loans and encouraged Russia to “do whatever the hell they want” to NATO members that did not spend enough money on their own defense.


The pressure did little to erode a coalition of Republicans that cast multiple votes to keep the aid bill moving forward; in fact, the bloc grew as the legislation made its way to passage.


That task will be more difficult in the Republican-led House, where Johnson controls the floor and right-wing lawmakers have shown a willingness to block legislation they oppose from even coming up for a vote. Still, if proponents can muster enough support from Democrats and mainstream and national security-minded Republicans willing to buck Trump and the far right, they could steer around the opposition through a maneuver known as a discharge petition. That allows lawmakers to force legislation to the floor if they can gather the signatures of a majority of the House — 218 members — calling for the action.


In the Senate, Republicans who supported the legislation argued that its passage was imperative to maintain the United States’ international standing as a guardian of Western-style democracy against threats posed by authoritarian regimes. They held up Ukraine’s war as a critical test of whether Washington is serious about standing up to aggressors like President Vladimir Putin of Russia.


“If it only stays this bad for the next couple of years, Putin is losing,” Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., said of Ukraine’s war effort. He argued that helping Ukraine could weaken Putin’s grip on power — “and that’s damn sure worth $60 billion, or $600 billion, to get rid of him.”


In a statement after the vote, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine said he was grateful to “every U.S. senator who has supported continued assistance to Ukraine as we fight for freedom, democracy, and the values we all hold dear.”


“For us in Ukraine, continued U.S. assistance helps to save human lives from Russian terror,” Zelenskyy added. “It means that life will continue in our cities and will triumph over war.”


Many Republican opponents of the bill cited the lack of tough border restrictions for the United States. But they also led the charge last week to kill a version of the legislation that paired the aid with stiffer border enforcement measures, including stricter asylum laws, increased detention capacity and accelerated deportations.


“A literal invasion is coming across our border,” Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said on the floor Monday. “And all they had time to do in the Senate was get the money, get the cash pallets, load the planes, get the Champagne ready and fly to Kyiv.”


Other Republicans argued that it was folly to send Ukraine more tens of billions of dollars, questioning whether Ukraine could ever get the upper hand against Russia.


Putin is “an evil war criminal, but he will not lose,” said Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., adding that “the continuation of this war is destroying Ukraine.”


And in a memo to colleagues, Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, suggested that the entire bill was designed to compromise Trump’s ability to cut off aid to Ukraine in the future should he win the election.


“The supplemental represents an attempt by the foreign policy blob/deep state to stop President Trump from pursuing his desired policy,” Vance wrote, adding that Democrats were trying to “provide grounds to impeach him and undermine his administration.”


A few Senate Democrats also opposed the legislation over the billions of dollars worth of offensive weapons included for Israel.


“I cannot vote to send more bombs and shells to Israel when they are using them in an indiscriminate manner against Palestinian civilians,” Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon said in a statement Monday night. He joined Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who normally votes with Democrats but broke with the party because of his objections to Israel’s actions against Palestinians in Gaza.

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