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Senate passes Ukraine funding in predawn vote

Written by on February 13, 2024

The Senate voted early Tuesday morning to pass a $95 billion emergency defense spending bill, including $60 billion for Ukraine, after an all-night filibuster by conservative opponents finally ran out of steam shortly after 5 a.m.

The 70-29 vote capped nearly a week of floor debate and four months of wrangling over President Biden’s request to fund the war in Ukraine, which he submitted to Congress in October.

Weary senators voted on the legislation shortly before sunrise after conservatives led by Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) spoke through the night to vent their objections to the bill.

But a group of Republicans led by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) voted with the overwhelming majority of Senate Democrats to pass the bill.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) hailed the bill as a declaration that “American leadership will not waver, not falter, not fail.”

“Today, we make Vladimir Putin regret the day he questioned America’s resolve. Today, we send a clear bipartisan message of resolve to our allies in NATO,” he said.

On the other side of the aisle, McConnell withstood a barrage of attacks from critics within his conference, such as Lee, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), to push long-delayed funding for Ukraine through the chamber.

Speaking shortly before the final vote, Lee accused McConnell of keeping Republican senators “in the dark” about negotiations over a bipartisan border security deal and of rejecting a proposal from some GOP senators to link payments to Ukraine to how many migrants cross the border each month.

Sens. Paul, Scott, Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Eric Schmitt (R-Mo.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) also took to the floor Monday night and early Tuesday morning to speak at length against funding Ukraine without securing the border.

McConnell warned his GOP colleagues that the Senate would put American security and credibility with its allies at risk by failing to pass the package.

“I know it’s become quite fashionable in some circles to disregard the global interests we have as a global power. To bemoan the responsibility of global leadership. To lament the commitment that has underpinned the longest drought of great power conflict in human history,” he said in a powerful floor speech Sunday, referring to the growing influence of isolationists within the Republican Party.

“This is idle work for idle minds. And it has no place in the United States Senate,” he said in a rebuke of Republican colleagues who threw up all sorts of procedural obstacles to derail the bill.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) was even more pointed in his criticism of Republicans who led the effort to block the bill.

“I know that shock jocks and online instigators have riled up many in the far reaches of my party but if your position is being cheered by Vladimir Putin, it’s time to reconsider your position,” he said on the floor.

In addition to military and economic aid to Ukraine, the measure will provide $14 billion in security assistance to Israel, $9 billion in humanitarian aid for Gaza, the West Bank and Ukraine, and $4.8 billion to deter Chinese aggression in the Indo-Pacific.

It would also provide $2.4 billion to help the U.S. forces defend against Iranian-backed Houthi attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea.

The package includes the FEND Off Fentanyl Act, which would require Biden to sanction transnational criminal organizations that traffic fentanyl and enable to use proceeds from property seized from traffickers to fund law enforcement operations.

The legislation now heads to the House, where Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) is threatening to keep it from reaching the floor for a vote. 

Johnson criticized the Senate bill Monday night for staying “silent on the most pressing issue facing our country,” the surge of migrants from around the world across the southern border.

“In the absence of having received any single border policy change from the Senate, the House will continue to work its own will on these important matters. America deserves better than the status quo,” he said in a statement issued shortly before the Senate took three procedural votes to advance the legislation.

Senators, however, said they hope the strong bipartisan Senate vote will give the measure momentum in the House, predicting it would pass the lower chamber easily if Johnson puts it on the floor. 

“I believe that if this bill is brought to the House floor, it will pass with strong bipartisan support,” Schumer said.

Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) said he didn’t think Johnson’s statement “changes much of anything,” telling reporters it “seemed consistent with all of his previous statements but preceded what could be a fairly healthy vote of support.” 

Schmitt, speaking on the floor at 1:30 Tuesday morning, however, predicted the Senate bill isn’t going anywhere in the House.

“It’s dead in the House,” he declared. 

The Senate’s emergency defense funding package was delayed for months while negotiators tried to hash out a compromise on new funding and policy reforms to tighten border security — something that Johnson insisted on when he met with Biden and other congressional leaders at the White House last month.

Senate negotiators finally unveiled their bipartisan border deal on Feb. 4 but it met with a strong backlash from Republican senators.

Former President Trump called it a “Death Wish for the Republican Party” and said “only a fool, or a Radical Let Democrat” would vote for it.

The uproar grew so loud, McConnell and other Republicans abandoned the border security deal they had initially backed.

A vote to advance the emergency defense spending package with asylum reform and $20 billion in new funding to hire more personnel, equipment and operational capability to secure the border failed by a mostly party-line vote on Feb. 7.

Only four Republicans voted for the package with the border deal: Sen. James Lankford (Okla.), the lead GOP negotiator who put it together, Romney, and Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska).

Johnson on Monday said senators “did the right thing” to reject it, calling the border provisions “insufficient.”

He said they “should have gone back to the drawing board to amend the current bill to include real border security provision that would actually help end the ongoing catastrophe.”

That prompted an exasperated response from Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), the lead Senate Democratic negotiator, who worked with Lankford over Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day to produce a deal.

“He said it needs that border in it. How about that?” Murphy said sarcastically. “So it’s funny. There was a bipartisan border deal that he helped kill.” 

“It’s interesting that he would now say that there’s something missing in the bill, to the extent that there’s a border provision missing from the bill. It’s because Speaker Johnson helped kill it,” Murphy said.

 

By Alexander Bolton and Aris Folley

 

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Senate faces new test on Ukraine aid bill


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