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Aid finally set to flow as Senate clears $95.3B emergency bill

Action ends monthslong stalemate over whether to provide more money for Ukraine war effort

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., arrives for a news conference Capitol after Senate procedural votes on the foreign aid package on Tuesday.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., arrives for a news conference Capitol after Senate procedural votes on the foreign aid package on Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate cleared a war funding package Tuesday night for President Joe Biden’s certain signature, capping a six-month struggle over Ukraine aid that divided GOP lawmakers, delayed Western weapons deliveries and gave Russia some breathing room in a military offensive against its neighbor.

The 79-18 vote to aid Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan came as a show of solid bipartisan support for a measure that had deeply divided Republicans in both chambers for months. The House passed the $95.3 billion package Saturday in the form of four individual bills that were combined for Senate action.

Unlike an earlier version of the measure the Senate passed in February, the revised package won support from a majority of Senate Republicans. A slim majority of House Republicans, however, still opposed the final package.

The vote marked a victory for the Biden administration, most Democrats, and traditional Republicans who have resisted the GOP’s ascendant populist, isolationist wing.

“Today is a day of celebration because we finally did get the job done,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., a staunch advocate for Ukraine who is seeking to steer his party away from isolationism as he prepares to step down from leadership. “It’s not too late. We don’t have to give up on Ukraine. And we are not going to.”

Critics said the push for more funding was a misguided overreaction to foreign threats that sapped U.S. resources and neglected domestic needs.

“Vladimir Putin is not Adolph Hitler,” said Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio. “With one hand, we have weakened our own country and with the other we have overextended,” he said, referring to the outsourcing of U.S. industrial production and commitments abroad.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., was quick to declare victory Tuesday even before the final vote on passage. And he punched back at critics like Vance who had held up the aid since at least last fall.

“These isolationists have now secured their ignominious place in history as the ones who’d see America stick its head in the sand as our enemies sought to undermine us,” Schumer said on the floor. “Had they won, they would have presided over a declining America.”

Assistance on the way

The package — which Biden said he’ll sign Wednesday — includes $60.8 billion for the Ukraine war effort, $26.4 billion for Israel and humanitarian aid to Gaza and other conflict zones and $8.1 billion to help Taiwan and other Indo-Pacific allies who face growing threats from China.

The measure would also authorize the seizure of an estimated $5 billion in frozen Russian assets to help pay for Ukraine assistance and toughen sanctions on Russia, Iran and China.

And it would force the divestiture of Chinese-owned TikTok or else ban the social media app in the U.S., and prohibit data brokers from selling Americans’ personal information to countries such as China, Russia, Iran and North Korea or organizations controlled by those governments.

But for Ukraine, in particular, the package comes as a godsend for thousands of weary troops still trying to hold off Russian forces after a February 2022 invasion.

Kyiv has been forced to ration its arms in recent weeks as it waited for Congress to clear the emergency spending bill, and the measure’s all but certain enactment, probably this week, will mean the arrival soon of sorely needed weapons.

The Pentagon told reporters Tuesday it could begin funneling weapons to Ukraine within days of the bill becoming law. 

In the House, Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., sought to make the package more palatable to restive Republicans by adding provisions to initial Senate legislation that included the seizure of frozen Russian assets and converting some of Ukraine’s economic aid into a loan.

Those tweaks helped convince some reluctant GOP senators who opposed the measure in February to support it this week.

“It’s just so much easier to go back home and say ‘listen, we’re asking people to pay us back when they can, if they can. We’re also going after the bad guys’ assets.'” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who switched his position to back the measure. “This is just a much better package. It’s more robust for Israel. So it’s good.”

Democrats had long been united on Ukraine aid, but Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip led to some fissures among progressives as the death toll of Palestinians climbed to the tens of thousands.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, sought to strip from the package nearly $9 billion in funding for offensive military weapons for Israel. A decision by leadership to deny him a vote on that amendment was “a dark day for democracy,” he said in a statement.

Sanders and Sens. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Peter Welch, D-Vt., joined GOP critics in voting against the final package, as they did on an earlier measure in February.

The path for final approval was cleared late Tuesday after Senate leaders abandoned efforts to reach agreement on amendment votes. Adoption of any amendments would have sent the package back to the House, which had already left town for the weeklong Passover recess.

Long road to passage

The initial effort to secure more foreign aid stretched back to August, when President Joe Biden first proposed a $40.1 billion emergency package for Ukraine, the Indo-Pacific, disaster relief and additional migrant resources at the U.S. southern border.

But the effort in the Senate began in earnest last fall and gained more urgency after Oct. 7, when Hamas militants invaded Israel from the Gaza Strip and slaughtered 1,200 Israelis while seizing hostages.

While Israel aid enjoyed strong bipartisan support, Republicans in both chambers sought to use Ukraine aid as leverage to push through new security measures at the U.S.-Mexico border.

But a hard-fought, bipartisan border compromise reached in the Senate in February collapsed after former President Donald Trump denounced it. The Senate then voted 70-29 for a $95.3 billion aid package that largely mirrors the final version it cleared Tuesday with some notable tweaks.

Some GOP conservatives who opposed the final bill said they felt betrayed by its lack of any new border security measures.

“This is not compromise,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. “This is legislative blackmail. And I will not vote for blackmail.”

After the vote, Schumer said he left a message for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy Tuesday evening saying, “Okay, we got it done. Now go win the fight.”

John M. Donnelly, Paul M. Krawzak and Briana Reilly contributed to this report.

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