Biden calls GOP holdup of Ukraine aid ‘close to criminal neglect’
President Joe Biden says Republican holdup on sending new U.S. aid to Ukraine for its war with Russia was “close to criminal neglect.”
WASHINGTON – The Senate passed a $95 billion foreign aid bill early Tuesday, capping a lengthy battle that highlighted deep foreign policy rifts within the Republican Party.
The 70-29 vote kicks the funding bill over to the House, where House Speaker Mike Johnson has said his chamber will not consider the legislation because it does not include border security provisions. The package would appropriate $60 billion to support Ukraine, which has been battling Russia since February of 2022.
It would also send $14 billion in military assistance to Israel, $9 billion in humanitarian assistance to Gaza and elsewhere, and nearly $5 billion to defend Taiwan.
Proponents of the legislation – including most Democrats and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell – see Russian President Vladimir Putin as a threat to democracy in Europe. An investment in Ukraine’s effort to hold Russia at bay would prevent the involvement of American troops down the line, they argued, should Russia succeed and feel emboldened to attack an ally in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
“If we want the world to remain a safe place for freedom, for democratic principles, and for our future prosperity, then America must lead the way,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor after the bill’s passage. “And with this bill, the Senate declares that American leadership will not waver.”
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, called it “the most important vote we will ever take as United States senators.” He was one of the 18 Republican senators who repeatedly blocked a filibuster by their peers in the days leading up to the final vote.
‘We ought to be taking care of America’s problems’
The majority of Senate Republicans, however, opposed advancing the aid. They cited hesitations to use taxpayer money to support a war in a foreign country while there are other issues to tackle at home and increasing federal debt.
“We ought to be taking care of America’s problems before we take care of the world’s problems,” said Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who led efforts to slow the passage of the bill.
Much of the funding that would be set aside for Ukraine would go to U.S. defense contractors. Nearly $20 billion would replenish the Department of Defense’s stockpile of weapons and equipment it has already provided to Ukraine; another nearly $14 billion would go to a Defense Department program in which the agency buys new weapons for Ukraine from U.S. manufacturers.
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., called it a “completely depraved justification for this war” that the funding would build up the American industrial base or create jobs. Putin “is an evil war criminal,” he said, “but he will not lose… every day that goes by, more Ukrainians die.”
Some left-leaning senators, too, voted against the bill over concerns about supporting Israel’s continued bombardment of Gaza. As it seeks to quash Hamas in retaliation for the Oct. 7 attack, Israel has waged a devastating bombing campaign in the Gaza Strip that has killed more than 28,000 people and displaced millions.
“There is a simple question that must be asked: How does it happen that despite waging a horrific war which has caused massive suffering… that U.S. Congress is about to send another $10 billion of unrestricted military aid to Israel?” Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said Sunday. “It is beyond comprehension to me.”
Many Republicans who voted against the bill also contended that the package failed to include a plan to secure the United States’ southern border – despite rejecting an agreement to make significant migration policy changes last week. Republicans killed that bipartisan agreement after former President Donald Trump came out against it, arguing it would allow too much illegal migration.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz., one of the lead negotiators on the border deal that fell apart, quipped Monday night that if Republicans wanted an aid deal with a border package they should “build a time machine.”
Trump says no aid ‘without the hope of a payback’
Like the bipartisan border agreement before it, Trump’s opinion on the legislation also seeped into the debate.
The slow march to passage over the weekend and Monday dovetailed with comments Trump made at a campaign rally in South Carolina, in which he said NATO allies need to pay the agreed-upon 2% of their GDP to military readiness or he would “encourage” Russia “to do whatever the hell they want.”
He also wrote on Truth Social that the U.S. should stop giving foreign aid “without the hope of a payback.”
That suggestion gained steam among some Republicans as the final vote approached.
Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., who was undecided Monday afternoon on whether he would support final passage of the bill, said he liked the sound of Trump’s proposal.
“I think Donald Trump is right in terms of positioning assistance for Ukraine and others in a way better way that protects American interests,” he said. “But I think Mitch (McConnell) is right… the whole western alliance crumbles without us.”
Even Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. – a consistent defense hawk who has been a vocal proponent of the aid – said Monday night that he would only support the package if the aid was given as a loan: “President Trump is right to insist that we think outside the box.”
Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, also circulated a memo to fellow Republicans arguing that the proposal could set up Democrats to attempt another Trump impeachment over Ukraine funding, should he be reelected in November.
The narrow path forward
Despite clearing the Senate, the bill’s path forward in the House is murky. Johnson’s pledge to reject it leaves Democrats and centrists in the House with one main option: Forcing consideration through a tool called a discharge petition, which would require a handful of Republicans to join with Democrats to get 218 signatures.
It’s a move that is rarely successful. But Republican Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., told reporters he had discussed the possibility with House members ahead of Monday’s votes. Democrats have pledged to use “every available legislative tool” to force a vote – and some moderate Republicans have already begun arguing for the move.
“Idiot,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., wrote on X Monday after Johnson said the bill would not be considered in the House. “Time for a discharge petition, or for three Republicans to vote against every rule until (Johnson) agrees. You will not win unless you fight fire with fire.”