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Senate passes $95 billion Ukraine, Israel aid package amid GOP divide

The Senate passed a $95 billion national security package to aid Israel, Ukraine and other U.S. allies early Tuesday morning after a monthslong debate that has deeply divided congressional Republicans.

The bill passed 70 to 29, after 22 Republicans joined Democrats in approving the aid.

But House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) preemptively rejected the legislation on Monday night saying in a statement that the package’s failure to address U.S. border security makes it a nonstarter in the House.

“In the absence of having received any single border policy change from the Senate, the House will have to continue to work its own will o these important matters,” Johnson said in a statement. “America deserves better than the Senate’s status quo.”

Johnson’s statement comes after he and other House leaders helped torpedo an earlier version of the legislation that includes sweeping border security measures and other reforms.

The aid package has been long awaited by the White House, which requested the funds in October, shortly after Israel came under attack by Hamas. Republicans, including Johnson, demanded a border security piece be attached to it in exchange for their votes — only to abandon the proposal amid opposition from former president Donald Trump, who has made the border crisis a core campaign issue and has openly complained the border reforms would have helped President Biden and Democrats.

“These past few months have been a great test for the US Senate, to see if we could escape the centrifugal pull of partisanship and summon the will to defend Western Democracy when it mattered most,” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said after the bill passed. “Today, the Senate has resoundingly passed the test.’

“History settles every account,’ Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a statement after the vote. ‘And today, on the value of American leadership and strength, history will record that the Senate did not blink.”

Ukraine funding has become unpopular among GOP base voters, and Trump said at a recent rally he would encourage Russia to do “whatever the hell they want” to NATO nations that he views are not spending enough money on defense. Trump also explicitly opposed the foreign aid package, saying in a recent social media post that he believes aid should be given as a loan.

There are efforts underway to go around Johnson and pass the bill through a Democrat-led discharge petition. Democrats need to gather at least four signatures from Republicans supportive of Ukraine funding to be able to introduce the petition, which probably wouldn’t happen until the end of the month given the congressional calendar.

Its path would still be tricky in the House, given that some Democrats have objected to the Israeli government’s handling of the war in Gaza, where most homes have been destroyed or damaged, more than 12,300 children have been killed and a quarter of the population is starving, according to the United Nations. Enough Republicans would need to support the bill to make up for those Democrats who would not vote for the bill over the aid to Israel.

Bringing the legislation to the floor through a discharge petition — which requires 218 members to support it — would avoid Johnson having his fingerprints on the proposal amid calls by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and others to remove him as speaker if he puts a Ukraine funding bill on the House floor for a vote.

In addition to the $60 billion for Ukraine and $14 billion for Israel, the national security legislation also includes more than $9 billion in humanitarian assistance to Gaza, Ukraine and other nations, spends nearly $5 billion on Indo-Pacific allies including Taiwan, and prohibits U.S. funding from the law go to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency that operates in Gaza and the West Bank, following allegations that some of its employees were involved in the Oct. 7 Hamas attack.

Sens Bernie Sanders (I-V.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) were the only members of the Democratic caucus to vote against the legislation, citing the staggering civilian death toll and humanitarian crisis unfolding in Gaza.

The Pentagon has said Ukraine urgently needs this aid, and is at risk of running out of ammunition as it continues to fend off a Russian invasion that began in 2022.

The vote comes as Trump has made opposing NATO a part of his campaign message and as his “America First” message has torn apart Senate Republicans who are at odds over the bill. At a rally on Saturday, Trump said that he told a president of a NATO country that he “would not protect” their country if Russia attacked it, because they were not spending enough on defense. “In fact, I would encourage [Russia] to do whatever the hell they want,” Trump said he told that unidentified president.

Trump’s presence has loomed over the aid package in Congress, as some Republicans echoed his rhetoric opposing sending Ukraine aid and then later tanked the border deal they demanded after Trump said he didn’t like it.

GOP senators have been fighting with each other for weeks over the package, with some critics arguing that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) led them into a political box, in which Democrats have claimed the edge on border security after the GOP defected from the border deal that the generally pro-Republican Border Patrol union endorsed.

“Why did Republicans stab their voters in their back?” Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) asked on the Senate floor on Monday, referring to the decision to vote for the package without securing the southern border. (Vance, along with almost every Republican, voted against the border security component last week.)

A vocal faction of McConnell critics has grown louder over the past several days, with a handful even calling for his ouster, as Senate Republicans gathered in meeting after meeting arguing about the uncomfortable political situation in which they find themselves. “Clearly there is more objection to foreign involvement in the Senate now than there used to be,” McConnell told The Washington Post in an interview last week. But he said he was “willing to take the heat” to force the politically divisive issue.

Democrats have raised alarms at the lack of unity on the Republican side to aid U.S. allies, as well as at Trump’s rhetoric.

Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), chairman of the Intelligence Committee, called Trump’s comments “frankly frightening” and said they would encourage Russian President Vladimir Putin as he wages war on Ukraine. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said Trump was “signaling” to Putin that he would “hand” him Ukraine if he becomes president.

But in the end, several Republicans who had been opposing the bill joined their 17 colleagues who had been voting for the measure earlier on the final vote.

Marianna Sotomayor contributed to this report.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post