February 22, 2024

The foreign aid bill in the Senate is passed; $95 billion in aid has been approved

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WASHINGTON — The Senate passed a $95 billion foreign aid bill early Tuesday, capping a protracted battle that exposed deep foreign policy divisions within the Republican Party.

The 70-29 vote sends the funding bill to the House of Representatives, 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 free up $60 billion to support Ukraine, which has been fighting Russia since February 2022.

It would also send $14 billion in military aid to Israel, $9 billion in humanitarian aid to Gaza and elsewhere, and nearly $5 billion to defend Taiwan.

Supporters 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 efforts to keep Russia at bay would prevent the involvement of US forces along the line, they argued, if Russia succeeded and felt emboldened to adopt an ally in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization traps.

“If we want the world to remain a safe place for freedom, for democratic principles and for our future prosperity, America must lead the way,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor after the bill was passed. accepted. “And with this bill, the Senate is declaring that America’s 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 18 Republican senators who repeatedly blocked a filibuster from their colleagues in the days leading up to the final vote.

‘We must tackle America’s problems’

However, the majority of Republicans in the Senate opposed advancing the aid. They cited hesitations about using taxpayer money to support a war abroad when there are other problems to address at home and federal debt to grow.

“We should address America’s problems before we address the world’s problems,” said Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who led efforts to delay the bill’s passage.

Much of the funding earmarked for Ukraine would go to U.S. defense contractors. Nearly $20 billion would replenish the Defense Department’s stockpile of weapons and equipment it has already supplied 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 America’s industrial base or create jobs. Putin “is an evil war criminal,” he said, “but he will not lose… every day that passes, more Ukrainians die.”

Some left-wing senators also voted against the bill over concerns about support for Israel’s continued bombing of Gaza. As it seeks to destroy Hamas in retaliation for the October 7 attack, Israel has waged a devastating bombing campaign in the Gaza Strip, killing more than 28,000 people and forcing millions to flee.

“There is a simple question that needs to be asked: How can it happen that despite waging a horrific war that has caused enormous suffering… the US Congress is about to send another $10 billion in unlimited military aid to Israel? ” Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said Sunday. “It’s beyond my understanding.”

Many Republicans who voted against the bill also argued that the package did not include a plan to secure the United States’ southern border — despite rejecting an agreement last week to make significant changes to migration policy. Republicans killed that bipartisan deal after former President Donald Trump spoke 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, joked Monday night that if Republicans wanted an aid deal with a border package they should ‘build a time machine’.

Trump says: no aid ‘without hope of payback’

Like the bipartisan border deal before it, Trump’s views on the legislation seeped into the debate.

The slow march toward passage over the weekend and Monday echoed comments Trump made at a campaign rally in South Carolina, in which he said NATO allies must pay the agreed-upon 2% of their GDP on military readiness, otherwise he would ‘cheer on’. Russia “to do whatever they want.”

He also wrote on Truth Social that the US should stop giving foreign aid “without hope of payback.”

That suggestion gained steam among some Republicans as the final vote approached.

Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., who was undecided Monday afternoon whether he would support final passage of the bill, said he liked the sound of Trump’s proposal.

“I think Donald Trump is right about positioning aid to Ukraine and others in a way that protects American interests,” he said. “But I think Mitch (McConnell) is right… the entire Western alliance will collapse without us.”

Even Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. — a consistent defense hawk who has been an outspoken supporter of the aid — said Monday evening that he would support the package only if the aid came in the form of a loan: “President Trump is right to insist that we go outside the box thinking paths.”

Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, also distributed a memo to fellow Republicans arguing that the proposal could prompt Democrats to attempt another impeachment of Trump on financing Ukraine, should he be re-elected in November.

The narrow path ahead

Despite gaining Senate approval, the bill’s path in the House is murky. Johnson’s pledge to reject the proposal leaves Democrats and centrists in the House of Representatives with one main option: force consideration through a tool called a discharge petition, which would require a handful of Republicans to join Democrats to get 218 signatures to get.

It’s a move that is rarely successful. But Republican Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., told reporters he had discussed the possibility with members of the House of Representatives 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 advocating for this move.

“Idiot,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., wrote on X Monday after Johnson said the bill would not be debated in the House of Representatives. “Time for a discharge petition, or for three Republicans to vote against every rule until (Johnson) agrees. You won’t win unless you fight fire with fire.”

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