UNITED STATES NEWS

Senate overwhelmingly passes aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan with big bipartisan vote

Apr 22, 2024, 9:49 PM | Updated: Apr 23, 2024, 7:04 pm

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate has passed $95 billion in war aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, sending the legislation to President Joe Biden after months of delays and contentious debate over how involved the United States should be in foreign wars.

The bill passed the Senate on an overwhelming 79-18 vote late Tuesday after the House had approved the package Saturday. Biden, who worked with congressional leaders to win support, said in a statement immediately after passage that he will sign it Wednesday and start the process of sending weapons to Ukraine, which has been struggling to hold its front lines against Russia.

“Tonight, a bipartisan majority in the Senate joined the House to answer history’s call at this critical inflection point,” Biden said.

The legislation would also send $26 billion in wartime assistance to Israel and humanitarian relief to citizens of Gaza, and $8 billion to counter Chinese threats in Taiwan and the Indo-Pacific. U.S. officials said about $1 billion of the aid could be on its way shortly, with the bulk following in coming weeks.

In an interview with The Associated Press shortly before the vote, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said that if Congress hadn’t passed the aid, “America would have paid a price economically, politically, militarily.”

“Very few things we have done have risen to this level of historic importance,” he said.

On the Senate floor, Schumer said the Senate was sending a message to U.S. allies: “We will stand with you.”

Schumer and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell made passage of the legislation a top priority, agreeing to tie the Ukraine and Israel aid to help ensure passage and arguing there could be dire consequences for the United States and many of its global allies if Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression is left unchecked. They worked with House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Republican, to overcome seemingly intractable Republican opposition to the Ukraine aid, in particular — eventually winning large majorities in both chambers.

McConnell said in a separate interview before the vote that it “is one of the biggest days in the time that I’ve been here.”

“At least on this episode, I think we turned the tables on the isolationists,” McConnell said.

In the end, 31 Republicans voted for the aid package — nine more than when the Senate passed a similar version in February, and a majority of the Senate GOP conference. The House approved the package in a series of four votes on Saturday, with the Ukraine portion passing 311-112.

The $61 billion for Ukraine comes as the war-torn country desperately needs new firepower and as Russian President Vladimir Putin has stepped up his attacks. Ukrainian soldiers have struggled as Russia has seized the momentum on the battlefield and gained significant territory.

Bidentold Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Monday the U.S. will send badly needed air defense weaponry as soon as the legislation is passed.

“The President has assured me that the package will be approved quickly and that it will be powerful, strengthening our air defense as well as long-range and artillery capabilities,” Zelenskyy said in a post on X on Monday.

In an effort to gain more votes, Republicans in the House majority also added a bill to the foreign aid package that could ban the social media app TikTok in the U.S. if its Chinese owners do not sell their stake within a year. That legislation had wide bipartisan support in both chambers.

The TikTok bill was one of several tweaks Johnson to the package the Senate passed in February as he tried to move the bill through the House despite significant opposition within his conference. Other additions include a stipulation that $9 billion of the economic assistance to Ukraine is in the form of “forgivable loans”; provisions that allow the U.S. to seize frozen Russian central bank assets to rebuild Ukraine; and bills to impose sanctions on Iran, Russia, China and criminal organizations that traffic fentanyl.

Those changes appears to have brought some of the nine additional Senate Republicans on board, bringing support to more than half of McConnell’s conference.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a longtime hawk who voted against the foreign aid package in February because it wasn’t paired with legislation to stem migration at the border, was one of the Republicans who switched their votes. “If we don’t help Ukraine now, this war will spread, and Americans who are not involved will be involved,” Graham said.

The package has had broad congressional support since Biden first requested the money last summer. But congressional leaders had to navigate strong opposition from a growing number of conservatives who question U.S. involvement in foreign wars and argue that Congress should be focused instead on the surge of migration at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance, a Republican who is a close ally to Donald Trump, said that despite the strong showing of support for funding Ukraine’s defense, opposition is growing among Republicans.

“The United States is spread too thin,” Vance said, “And that that argument I think, is winning the American people and it’s slowly winning the Senate, but it’s not going to happen overnight.”

The growing fault line in the GOP between those conservatives who are skeptical of the aid and the more traditional, “Reagan Republicans” who strongly support it may prove to be career-defining for the two top Republican leaders.

McConnell, who has made the Ukraine aid a top priority, said last month that he would step down from leadership after becoming increasingly distanced from many in his conference on the Ukraine aid and other issues. Johnson, who said he put the bills on the floor after praying for guidance, faces threats of an ouster after a majority of Republicans voted against the aid to Ukraine.

Johnson said after House passage that “we did our work here, and I think history will judge it well.”

Opponents in the Senate, like the House, included some left-wing senators who are opposed to aiding Israel as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has bombarded Gaza and killed thousands of civilians. Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, voted against the package.

“We must end our complicity in this terrible war,” Sanders said.

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Senate overwhelmingly passes aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan with big bipartisan vote