Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Senate advances Ukraine aid over conservative blockade

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The Senate voted for the third time in the past week to advance funding for Ukraine and Israel despite strong opposition from conservative Republicans who balked at the package not including a House-passed bill to tighten the southern border and questioned the end game for the war in Ukraine.

The Senate voted 67-27 Sunday afternoon to move the $95.3 billion package another step toward final passage, assembling in the chamber shortly before the Super Bowl kickoff.

The package includes $60 billion for Ukraine; $14 billion in security assistance for Israel; $9 billion in humanitarian assistance for Gaza, the West Bank and Ukraine; and $4.8 billion to support allies in the Indo-Pacific. It was stripped of border provisions last week after conservatives objected to a bipartisan border deal.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) remarked on the rare occasion of voting on Super Bowl Sunday but reminded colleagues of the high stakes of the moment.

“As we speak, [Russian President Vladimir Putin’s] invasion of Ukraine has rendered parts of Eastern Europe a war zone the likes of which we have not seen in those regions since the Second World War,” he said on the floor.

“Ukraine is dangerously low on supplies, including ammo and air defenses. If America doesn’t assist Ukraine, Putin is all too likely to succeed,” he warned.

The Senate floor debate has spilled into what was supposed to be a two-week recess because conservatives led by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) protested the legislation by refusing to speed up votes.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), speaking right after Schumer, warned that failing to support Ukraine would put America’s allies at risk by giving China a “green light” to project power in Asia and the Indo-Pacific.

“Our partners don’t have the luxury of pretending that the world’s most dangerous aggressors are someone else’s problem. And neither do we,” he said. “It is not exaggeration to say that the eyes of the world are on the United States Senate.”

McConnell’s pointed admonishment about America’s role in preserving global security came in response to the sharp criticisms from conservative colleagues, who are lambasting him for working with Schumer.

Paul, McConnell’s home-state colleague, on Friday called McConnell’s support for the bill “outrageous” and accused him, Schumer and President Biden of “criminal neglect” by working to “send $100 billion overseas to fix someone else’s border before addressing our border.”

Paul and most Republican senators voted last week to block an earlier version of the defense spending package that included a bipartisan border security deal that was endorsed by the National Border Patrol Council.

Republican critics of that deal said it didn’t go far enough to reduce migration.

Senators voted to advance the Ukraine and Israel funding package after a procedural motion offered by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) to amend the package failed.  

Lee accused Schumer of blocking votes on amendments.

“Leader Schumer is dictating which amendments are allowed to be voted on and which are not. To cut to the chase, essentially all of them are not,” he said.

Schumer has repeatedly said he’s willing to consider a “reasonable list of amendments,” but Democrats pointed out that a handful of Republicans have offered more than 80 amendments to the bill.

Lee spoke at length to a mostly empty Senate chamber on Saturday in opposition to the bill, and Sen. JD Vance’s (R-Ohio) office circulated a memo highlighting the “key flaws” in the Ukraine aid package.

Vance’s staff noted the $60 billion in aid for Ukraine would be the largest amount Congress has passed to help Ukraine since the war started two year ago. They also argued the flow of weapons, ammunition and material to the war effort could put a strain on the U.S. industrial base.

Senate Republicans who support the legislation, however, argue that allowing Ukraine to fall to Russia would hurt American credibility around the world and threaten U.S. economic interests in Europe. They say that most of the military funding for Ukraine will be spent within the United States to replenish aging stockpiles and update U.S. military technology.

“Everybody talks about this being a Ukraine issue. This is a national defense issue for this country. We’re rebuilding supply lines, we’re rebuilding our arms, munitions, right now. A lot of the money we’re spending is all being spent in the United States,” said Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), who voted to advance the package.

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