Senate approves Ukraine, Israel foreign aid package

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Washington — The Senate approved a major foreign aid package Tuesday, as a bipartisan group of senators propelled the long-delayed legislation over the finish line after an overnight session. But new, steep opposition from House Speaker Mike Johnson has thrown the bill's prospects in the lower chamber into question.

President Biden urged the House to move forward with the legislation "with urgency," saying in a statement Tuesday morning that "we cannot afford to wait any longer."

"The costs of inaction are rising every day, especially in Ukraine," the president said, noting reports that Ukrainian troops are running out of ammunition in their fight against Russia.

"There are those who say American leadership and our alliances and partnerships with countries around the world do not matter. They do," Mr. Biden said. "If we do not stand against tyrants who seek to conquer or carve up their neighbors' territory, the consequences for America's national security will be significant."

The Senate vote

The vote on final passage early Tuesday morning of the $95 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel and the Indo-Pacific was 70 in favor to 29 opposed. The upper chamber pushed through a number of procedural hurdles in recent days, remaining in Washington through the weekend despite a planned recess that was set to begin this week.

"It's been a long night, a long weekend and a long few months, but a new day is here  and our efforts have been more than worth it. Today we witnessed one of the most historic and consequential bills to have ever passed the Senate," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said after the vote. "With this bill, the Senate declares that American leadership will not waver, will not falter, will not fail."

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks at a press conference following the successful package of a foreign aid bill in the Senate on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024. / Credit: Nathan Posner/Anadolu via Getty Images
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks at a press conference following the successful package of a foreign aid bill in the Senate on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024. / Credit: Nathan Posner/Anadolu via Getty Images

The vote comes months after the White House requested the supplemental funding package, when Republicans demanded that the foreign aid be tied to enhanced border security measures. But when a long-sought bipartisan border security agreement was released last week, and then quickly rejected after former President Donald Trump weighed in, the deal's prospects in Congress disappeared. But soon after, Schumer made a push to proceed with the aid package without the border provisions.

For a short period, the foreign aid package itself appeared to be threatened in the Senate by GOP opposition. Some Republicans wanted an opportunity to amend the bill to include border security provisions, even though they had rejected the bipartisan deal days earlier. And Trump has similarly railed against the legislation in recent days, worsening its prospects among his allies. But enough moderate Republicans and Democrats ultimately coalesced to ensure the bill would pass.

Still, getting the package approved became a slog this week as Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, slowed the bill's march toward passage at every opportunity. Paul was joined by a group of Senate Republicans who gave opposition speeches to hold up the bill's passage late Monday night and into Tuesday morning.

Paul took to the floor on Monday to begin filibustering the bill, warning in a lengthy floor speech that "they will take the $60 billion to Kyiv, crack the champagne," while the U.S.-Mexico border sees an influx of migration.

"We have a disaster at our southern border and ranking Republicans and the ranking Democrats — there is no difference, they're on the same team — they'll be on the same plane to Kyiv," Paul said.

Nevertheless, most of his Senate colleagues ultimately backed the bill, as defense hawks warned of the national security implications should the U.S. fail to back its allies.

"The Senate understands the responsibilities of America's national security and will not neglect them," Senate Minority Leader Mitch 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."

But even with the upper chamber's approval, the legislation's prospects in the House grew dimmer Monday night.

How would the foreign aid package fare in the House?

Whether the House would take up a Senate-passed foreign aid bill remains to be seen. Though Johnson, the speaker, was noncommittal last week when asked whether the lower chamber would vote on the bill, he clarified his position on Monday night. Hours ahead of the vote, he released a statement steeped in criticism about the aid package, while suggesting that the House would not consider the bill.

"The mandate of national security supplemental legislation was to secure America's own border before sending additional foreign aid around the world," Johnson said in the statement. "Now, 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."

The calculus for Johnson, who took the reins of the chamber and its narrow GOP majority in late October, appears complicated. While there may be a group of House moderates ready to back the foreign aid bill, among many House conservatives, additional aid for Ukraine is a nonstarter. And some House progressives may feel similarly about additional aid to Israel.

House leaders tried to approve standalone Israel aid in a vote last week, which required the backing of two-thirds of the chamber under suspension of the rules. But support for the move fell short, complicating the attempt to separate Israel aid — a high priority for House Republicans — from the broader foreign aid package.

Schumer urged Johnson to take up the legislation, saying at a news conference on Tuesday that the bipartisan vote in the Senate makes it clear that the package would pass in the House with similar support.

"I call on Speaker Johnson to rise to the occasion, to do the right thing — bring this bill to the floor," Schumer said, adding that "if the hard right kills this bill, it would be an enormous gift to Vladimir Putin."

Should Johnson ultimately decide not to bring the foreign aid package to the floor, it remains possible that Democrats and some moderate Republicans could force a vote with a discharge petition. The idea has appeared to gain traction in recent days, but the rarely used maneuver would be a heavy lift and would fly in the face of GOP leadership, with no guarantee of success.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries said in a statement last week that the Democrats are prepared to "use every available legislative tool" to get the national security legislation through the lower chamber, in what appeared to be a nod to the discharge petition. But the move would require some GOP support, in what would be a stunning rebuke of their leadership.

"The time has come for Extreme MAGA Republicans and the Pro-Putin Caucus to end the political stunts and come together in a bipartisan manner to support America's national security priorities," Jeffries said.

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