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Senators push forward with Ukraine aid package

The vote came after Senate leaders issued stark warnings about the consequences of abandoning longtime U.S. allies in Europe.
Senators push forward with Ukraine aid package
Posted at 5:37 AM, Feb 12, 2024

As former President Donald Trump and a growing number of Republicans oppose U.S. aid to Ukraine, the Senate's leaders argued in strong terms on Sunday that the money is crucial to pushing back against Russian President Vladimir Putin and maintaining America's global standing.

In the Capitol for a rare weekend session, the Senate voted again to move forward with the assistance as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky issued stark warnings about the consequences of abandoning longtime U.S. allies in Europe.

"Today it's no exaggeration to say that the eyes of the world are on the United States Senate," McConnell said. "Our allies and partners are hoping that the indispensable nation, the leader of the free world, has the resolve to continue."

Sunday's 67-27 vote to move forward on the $95.3 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel and other countries comes as former President Donald Trump, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, is trying to kill the assistance and has escalated his attacks on the NATO military alliance.

Trump posted on his social media platform over the weekend that the U.S. should consider loaning Ukraine money, not giving it to them, saying that "The United States of America should be 'stupid' no longer!"

And the former president said Saturday at a campaign rally in South Carolina that Russia should be able to do "whatever the hell they want" to NATO members who do not meet their defense spending targets. He recounted a story he has told before about an unidentified NATO member who confronted him over his threat not to help them.

SEE MORE: Ukraine's president appoints new army leader amid war with Russia

While McConnell has made helping Ukraine a top issue, an increasing number of members in his GOP conference have followed Trump's lead and are opposing the aid, which Senate leaders have been trying to pass for months.

Without mentioning Trump by name, McConnell said in his opening remarks Sunday that "American leadership matters, and it is in question."

Schumer said that if America doesn't assist Ukraine, "Putin is all too likely to succeed."

"The only right answer to this threat is for the Senate to face it down unflinchingly by passing this bill as soon as we can," Schumer said before the vote.

Amid shortages on the battlefield, the package would provide $60 billion for Ukraine, mostly to purchase U.S.-made defense equipment, including munitions and air defense systems that authorities say it desperately needs as Russia batters the country. It includes $8 billion for the government in Kyiv and other assistance.

It would also provide $14 billion for Israel's war with Hamas, $8 billion for Taiwan and partners in the Indo-Pacific to counter China, and $9.2 billion in humanitarian assistance for Gaza.

The Senate is pushing through several procedural votes on the slimmed-down package after an attempt to pair it with legislation to stem migration at the U.S. border collapsed. Objections from Republicans adamantly opposed to the aid have delayed quick action, forcing the weekend votes as negotiations continue over potential amendments to the legislation.

Senators were still trying to negotiate a deal on amendments Sunday but it was uncertain whether they could come to an agreement that would move up a final vote. If there continue to be objections, a final vote could come midweek.

Schumer has said he is open to amendments — most of which would be likely to fail — but he forced senators to stay in session through the weekend to try and speed up the process.

"I can't remember the last time the Senate was in session on Super Bowl Sunday," Schumer said as he opened the session. "But as I've said all week long, we're going to keep working on this bill until the job is done."

In Sunday's vote, 18 Republicans voted to move forward with the measure — giving supporters optimism that it will eventually pass. But the debate over the aid has deeply divided the Senate GOP conference, with McConnell digging in to support it while some of the most adamant opponents of sending money to Ukraine have increasingly criticized the party leader.

"America is being invaded every day at our southern border," Florida Sen. Rick Scott posted on X, formerly Twitter, as voting got underway. "Why would we vote to send money and resources to secure Ukraine's border before we secure our own?"

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul said the debt is a huge problem, "and yet they're wanting to pass a bill to send money we don't have. So it's not a sign of strength, and it's a sign of weakness."

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., said that he can understand the reservations that voters have about voting for foreign aid, but that U.S. senators, who are privy to classified briefings, should understand "what's at stake if Putin wins."

"And so some people around here if they really are being driven just by the perceptions of their base, they should grow a spine," he said.

Even if the Senate does pass the package, its future is deeply uncertain in the House, where a large majority of GOP lawmakers are firmly allied with Trump. Speaker Mike Johnson has been noncommittal on the aid and has said he wants the Senate process to play out.

Republican Sen. Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma, a former House member who voted to move forward on the aid, noted that some members of the House have threatened to try and remove Johnson, as they did his predecessor Kevin McCarthy, if he holds a vote on Ukraine.

Still, "Speaker Johnson is now sitting in classified briefings that he hadn't had the privilege to sit in" before he was speaker, Mullin said.

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