Senate passes Ukraine, Israel funding after months-long stalemate

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The Senate on Tuesday passed a $95 billion emergency foreign aid package, ending months of bitter fighting over $61 billion for the war in Ukraine that had deeply divided the Republican Party.

The measure passed by a vote of 79 to 18 and now goes to President Biden for his signature.

The package also includes $15 billion in military aid for Israel and $9 billion in humanitarian aid for Gaza and other war-torn areas, which became another flashpoint among conservative Republicans who argued it didn’t have adequate safeguards to keep it from going to Hamas.

It provides $8 billion in security assistance to deter Chinese aggression in the Indo-Pacific.

And it includes language to force the Chinese owner of TikTok to divest from the popular app, which is used by more than 140 million Americans, or otherwise face a ban within the United States.

But the centerpiece of the package is $47.7 billion that would flow through the Defense Department to provide training, equipment, weapons, logistics support and supplies to help Ukraine’s military, as well as $13.4 billion to replenish U.S. equipment sent to Ukraine and $20.5 billion for U.S. Armed Forces support in Europe.

It also includes $9.5 billion in economic aid to Ukraine structured as a forgivable loan, an idea that former President Trump gave life to when the Senate passed a previous version of the $95 billion assistance package in February.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), who worked for months to get Ukraine aid passed, hailed the vote as a landmark moment.

“Today the Senate sends a unified message to the entire world. America will always defend democracy in its hour of need. We tell our allies we will stand with you. We tell our adversaries don’t mess with us,” Schumer declared on the Senate floor.

McConnell took to the floor to hail the prosperity the United States has enjoyed because it’s a global leader but told colleagues that that leadership comes with responsibilities to allies who help maintain peace and order throughout much of the world.

And he chastised colleagues who dragged out the debate over helping Ukraine based on what he called the “sheer fiction” that supporting the war is not a vital national security interest.

“So much of the hesitation and shortsightedness that has delayed this moment is premised on sheer fiction,” he said, warning that failure to support Ukraine would only encourage “unchecked terrorist violence” against American troops in the Middle East and Israel.

He said that allies in Asia know that “China will benefit from Russian advances” and that “Beijing is waiting for us to waver.”

And he warned that the delay to arm Ukraine had undermined the war effort.

“Make no mistake: delay in providing Ukraine the weapons to defend itself has strained the prospects of defeating Russian aggression. Dithering and hesitation has compounded the challenges we face,” he said.

Thirty-one Republican senators voted Tuesday afternoon to advance the foreign aid package to a final vote, eight more than voted for a similar package in February after Trump voiced his opposition to it and demanded it be structured as a loan.

McConnell hailed the vote as a sign that his side is winning the debate with isolationists in the party about the importance of supporting European and Asian allies and deterring Russia, China and Iran.

“I think we’ve turned the corner on the isolationist movement. I’ve noticed how uncomfortable the proponents of that are when you call them isolationists. I think we’ve made some progress,” he told reporters.

The bill still faced staunch opposition led by conservatives, including Sens. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) and Mike Lee (R-Utah).

Vance on the Senate floor ticked through the arguments he made in a recent New York Times op-ed that the military aid for Ukraine won’t turn the tide of the war and that the United States doesn’t have the industrial capability to supply it with the weapons it needs to win.

And he warned of unintended consequences of U.S. involvement that can’t be foreseen and potentially tying the hands of the next president to achieve a diplomatic end to the war.

Schumer faced divisions within his own conference over military aid to Israel.

Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) voted against the package. Sen. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) helped advance the package earlier Tuesday but voted against final passage.

Sanders said that while he supported military aid for Ukraine and humanitarian assistance for Gaza, Sudan and Ukraine he opposed what he called “$8.9 billion in unfettered military aid” to allow Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wage “his unprecedented assault against the Palestinian people.”

The road to getting the foreign aid to Biden’s desk has been long and politically fraught.

Biden submitted his foreign aid request to Congress in October, and the Senate passed its version of the $95 billion package on Feb. 13 after an effort to add to it a bipartisan border security deal negotiated with the White House failed. Trump played a key role in knocking off the border security component, telling allies that he wanted to deny Biden a victory on a major issue in the 2024 election.

Then the bill stalled for weeks, as Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) kept his focus on passing long-stalled government funding and dealing with a restive right flank resolutely opposed to Ukraine aid.

Johnson gave colleagues little hint how he would handle the Ukraine funding issue until he met with GOP senators at their annual retreat in mid-March at the Library of Congress, when he told them he would structure some of the assistance as a loan and add language authorizing the seizure of Russian assets to pay for Ukraine’s reconstruction.

The Speaker, however, held off from bringing the legislation to the floor as he faced the threat that conservative critics would move to boot him from the top leadership job.

Johnson shored up his right flank by paying a visit to Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, where he met with the former president for an hour.

Trump gave Johnson a major boost by praising Johnson for doing a “very good job” and declaring “I stand with the Speaker.”

Johnson sought to overcome the thorny divisions within his conference over Ukraine funding, as well as Democratic disagreements over providing military aid to Israel, by splitting the foreign aid package into four separate bills on the House floor.

Even then, Democrats had to rally to Johnson’s side and help him overcome conservative opposition in the Rules Committee and on a procedural vote on the House floor. Usually such procedural votes on House rules are strictly partisan affairs.

In the end, all four bills passed by wide margins.

Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.) on Tuesday praised Johnson for his innovative handling of the bill.

“I think they did a really nice job of structuring it over there to get a big vote coming out of the House and adding some provisions that are going to be additive to the vote count here over in the Senate,” he said of the additions of the TikTok ban and language structuring Ukraine economic assistance as a forgivable loan.

“His engagement I think with the former president probably was helpful because there was a fairly … strong position prior in opposition,” he said of Johnson’s outreach to Trump.

U.S. officials told Reuters that they are already working on a $1 billion military aid package for Ukraine that will be authorized by the foreign aid package. It will include air defense missiles, artillery rockets, 155mm artillery shells and anti-tank weapons.

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