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Senate looks to clear aid bill Tuesday night with no amendments

Emergency spending package on a fast track to president's desk — after several hours of speeches

Demonstrators supporting Ukraine funding are seen outside the Capitol before the House passed the foreign aid package on Saturday.
Demonstrators supporting Ukraine funding are seen outside the Capitol before the House passed the foreign aid package on Saturday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Abandoning efforts to reach a deal on amendment votes, Senate leaders decided to power through opponents’ speechifying in hopes of clearing a $95.3 billion emergency aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan by Tuesday night.

The outcome has never been in doubt, especially after the Senate voted 80-19 to limit debate on the long-stalled aid package earlier on Tuesday. But Senate leaders had been seeking an expedited timeline for final passage by achieving unanimous consent on amendment votes for a measure that faces opposition from both conservative Republicans and some progressive Democrats.

By Tuesday afternoon, that effort had collapsed and instead party leaders on both sides of the aisle decided to simply hand post-cloture time over to senators who wanted to speak for up to an hour each on the topic. Senators briefed on the procedure said they expected the bill’s critics to exhaust themselves by around 10 p.m. Tuesday, and without any additional speakers to claim floor time, final passage would come shortly thereafter.

“It’s going to pass overwhelmingly,” said Steve Daines, R-Mont., who himself had filed amendments earlier in the day. He said there were roughly nine senators expected to speak into the evening on the measure.

One of those, Marco Rubio, R-Fla., began his speech in the late afternoon. He complained that a border security package was missing from the bill, though Senate Republicans largely rejected a bipartisan compromise that had been agreed to earlier this year.

“This is not compromise. This is legislative blackmail. And I will not vote for blackmail,” Rubio said.

The Senate’s No. 2 Republican, South Dakota’s John Thune, had said earlier in the day that Republicans were seeking “a fairly narrow, finite list” of amendments that he called “manageable.”

But Thune also said negotiations “hit a snag” over the weekend with an amendment sought by Ted Cruz, R-Texas, dealing with the Houthi rebels in Yemen, who have waged missile attacks on ships in the Red Sea in response to the Israeli war in the Gaza Strip.

Republicans filed amendments to eliminate economic aid to Ukraine, restrict funding for Gaza and prevent the funding package from being designated as an emergency that avoids the need for offsetting cuts. 

But some Republicans were also seeking to use the bill as leverage to push priorities unrelated to the wars in Ukraine and Israel or the national security demands of the Indo-Pacific region.

Daines filed an amendment that would pump an additional $3 billion into the Federal Communication Commission’s “rip and replace” program designed to remove Chinese components from wireless communications systems.

Without additional funds, telecommunications providers could be on the hook for the cost, which backers say could force them to cut back on service in rural areas. GOP Sens. Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming and Roger Wicker of Mississippi co-sponsored Daines’ freestanding bill that his amendment is based on.

Lummis separately offered an amendment that would reduce the fiscal 2025 discretionary spending caps imposed in last year’s debt limit suspension law.

And Mike Rounds, R-S.D., filed amendments that would streamline the asylum adjudication process at the U.S. southern border and impose new restrictions on the sale of agricultural land.

Mike Lee, R-Utah, attempted to slow things down by offering a motion to table a procedural maneuver Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer used to limit amendments, known as filling the tree.

“We’re not a rubber stamp for the House,” Lee said. “We’re United States senators and we should be able to vote as such.”

His motion was rejected, 48-50.

‘Savage and unprecedented campaign’

On the left, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, sought to offer an amendment aimed at preventing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from getting new funding for offensive weapons that could be used in his campaign to rid the Gaza Strip of Hamas militants.

“As U.S. taxpayers, do we want to be complicit in Netanyahu’s savage and unprecedented campaign against the Palestinian people?” Sanders asked on the floor. 

Sanders later said he’d been told he won’t get a vote on that amendment, which would strike $8.9 billion in military aid for Israel. He said he was “very disappointed, but not surprised” that the amendment would not be considered.

Sanders also sought an amendment that would remove a proposed funding ban against the United Nations agency that helps Palestinian refugees, known as UNRWA. Lawmakers pushed for the ban after the Israeli government accused a dozen UNRWA employees of participating in the Oct. 7 attack that killed an estimated 1,200 Israelis.

“You do not deny humanitarian aid to millions of people because of the alleged [crimes] of 12 people out of a workforce of 30,000,” Sanders said.

But most if not all Democrats are considered likely to line up behind the aid package, which the House passed Saturday as four separate bills that have been bundled together.

The bigger challenge has been winning over Republicans. In February, a majority of Republicans — 26 of the 49 members — voted against an earlier version of the bill that the House declined to take up. Three Democratic caucus members, including Sanders, also voted no.

“The time has come to finish the job, to help our friends abroad once and for all,” Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the floor Tuesday. “I ask my colleagues to join together to pass the supplemental today as expeditiously as possible. Send our friends abroad the aid they have long been waiting for.”

Some GOP conservatives have opposed additional money for Ukraine, saying they see no endgame to the war against Russia and want European allies to carry more of the weight.

Some are also angry that the package offers nothing to better secure the U.S. southern border, although a bipartisan border compromise earlier this year fell apart after former President Donald Trump denounced it.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., a stalwart supporter of Ukraine aid, urged his party again Tuesday to reject the populist, isolationist movement that has gained momentum in recent years.

“Will the Senate indulge the fantasy of pulling up a drawbridge?” McConnell asked on the floor. “Will we persist in the 21st century with an approach that failed in the 20th? Or will we dispense with the myth of isolationism and embrace reality?”

House tweaks

The core of the bill mirrors much of what the Senate previously passed in February. But some key changes and additions made in the House carried extra weight with those who were formerly against the bill or wavering.

Those changes include transforming the measure’s $9.4 billion economic aid package for Ukraine into a forgivable loan, with a cost-matching requirement for European allies; authorization for the seizure of frozen Russian assets and use of the proceeds to distribute additional aid to Ukraine; and expanded sanctions on Russia and Iran. 

The House also added a popular provision to require Chinese-owned ByteDance Ltd., to sell its stake in TikTok or face a U.S. ban on the social media app, but with a longer divestiture deadline to help get senators on board.

“We think a year is an ample time to allow potential investors to come forward, for due diligence to be completed, and for lawyers to draw up and finalize contracts,” Senate Commerce Chair Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said on the floor Tuesday in endorsing the package.

Thune on Tuesday said the addition of the TikTok measure helped grow support for the broader package. “I think there’s a strong contingent on both sides who believe that we’ve got to deal with what is a growing national security threat, and that’s technologies being advanced by foreign adversary countries,” he said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who opposed the earlier aid package in February, said he planned to support the latest version, citing the inclusion of provisions that would make part of the Ukraine funding a loan and would seize frozen Russian assets to help pay for Ukraine assistance. 

“I think we’ll have a good, big vote today,” Graham said. “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.’ This is just a much better package. It’s more robust for Israel. So it’s good.”

Nina Heller, Aidan Quigley and Briana Reilly contributed to this report.

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