Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Senate votes to advance Ukraine-Israel package after border deal fails

Senate votes to advance Ukraine-Israel package after border deal fails

A bill that would send billions in aid to key U.S. allies surmounted a procedural hurdle on Thursday after more than a dozen Republicans voted with Democrats to consider the legislation. The move marked a surprising turnaround for the fate of U.S. aid to Ukraine, which had been bogged down for months by GOP demands that border reforms be attached to it.

The bill includes more than $60 billion in aid for Ukraine as it fends off a Russian invasion, and $14 billion for Israel in its war in Gaza, and has long been a top national security priority for President Biden, who asked for the funds last October. Senate Republicans voted down a version of the foreign aid package that contained border reforms on Wednesday.

The vote to proceed sets up what will likely be days of debate on foreign aid, after Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) declared he would slow the process to ensure “every minute” of procedural time be used.

Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the Senate would stay in session until “the job is done.”

Biden has been stymied by congressional Republicans who demanded strict border reforms be attached to aid for allies in exchange for GOP support. But Republicans banded together to block the larger package that included the very border reforms they demanded earlier Wednesday, after former president Donald Trump and House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) voiced their opposition to it.

The internal GOP disarray may ironically end up reviving Ukraine funding, which had become politically toxic among many Republican lawmakers whose “America First” base has become skeptical of foreign aid. The bill, which also includes billions for IndoPacific allies and $10 billion in humanitarian aid for Gaza, Ukraine and other nations, faces several more votes before it would become law.

GOP senators have been deeply divided on how to proceed on the foreign aid package, with some critics arguing that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) led them into a political box canyon where Democrats have claimed the political edge on border security after they voted down the border deal they initially demanded. A vocal faction of McConnell critics have grown louder over the past week, with a handful even calling for his ouster, as Senate Republicans have gathered in meeting after meeting and argued about the uncomfortable political situation they find themselves in.

“The Republicans wanted something and then decided that they didn’t want that thing,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), referring to border security provisions. “Now, some of them want it again, and I think the adults are just moving on.”

But ultimately McConnell was joined by 17 fellow Republicans to advance the deal, including Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va), John Thune (R-S.D.) Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Todd Young (R-Ind), Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), John Neely Kennedy (R-La.), Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.). Republican backers also included Sens. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), John Cornyn (Texas) and Jerry Moran (Kan.).

Sen. Jim Lankford (R-Okla.), an author of the border-and-aid package that failed, opposed the stand-alone aid measure after earlier decrying Republicans for playing politics during an election year. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) voted no, saying in a statement he opposed the way the Israeli government has handled the war in Gaza.

Republican senators are still figuring out what amendments they would like to ask be considered alongside the legislation, with some saying they’d like to vote on border measures to send a political message that they still support border security. Others have floated amendments that would ensure Ukrainian aid is only used to support the country’s military efforts, not its economic issues.

The failure of the border and foreign aid package has been embarrassing for McConnell, whose staff helped negotiate the bill, given just four Senate Republicans voted for the deal Wednesday. McConnell, the longest-serving party leader in the Senate, has made backing Ukraine and the U.S. commitment to NATO a core issue. But he has had trouble finding a way to deliver the votes from his conference given the issue’s unpopularity among the base and Johnson’s insistence he would not pass it without strict border reforms attached. The House refused to even take up the border and aid measure, however, after Trump came out against it.

A number of Senate Republicans are headed to the Munich Security Conference next week, where Ukraine’s fate will be top of mind.

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