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US Senate advances $95 billion Ukraine, Israel aid bill after failed border deal

Published 02/08/2024, 10:15 AM
Updated 02/08/2024, 03:01 PM
© Reuters. The U.S. Capitol building is seen in Washington, U.S., December 18, 2023. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz

By Patricia Zengerle, Richard Cowan and Makini Brice

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A $95.34 billion bill that includes aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan advanced in the U.S. Senate on Thursday after Republicans blocked compromise legislation that included a long-sought overhaul of immigration policy.

Senators backed a procedural motion by 67-32, exceeding the 60-vote threshold to advance the bill. Seventeen Republicans voted in favor, in a surprising shift after they blocked the broader bill on Wednesday.

"This is a good first step. This bill is essential for our national security, for the security of our friends in Ukraine, in Israel, for humanitarian aid for innocent civilians in Gaza, and for Taiwan," Schumer said in the Senate after the vote.

There was no immediate word on when the 100-member chamber would consider final passage, as some senators said they expected to remain in session during the weekend if necessary.

"We are going to keep working on this bill until the job is done," Schumer said.

The Democratic-led Senate took up the security aid bill after Republicans on Wednesday blocked a broader measure that also included reforms of border security and immigration policy that a bipartisan group of senators had negotiated for months.

The security aid bill includes $61 billion for Ukraine as it battles a Russian invasion, $14 billion for Israel in its war against Hamas and $4.83 billion to support partners in the Indo-Pacific, including Taiwan, and deter aggression by China.

It also would provide $9.15 billion in humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza and the West Bank, Ukraine and other populations in conflict zones around the globe.

The Senate is expected to take days to agree on a final version of the security aid package, with some Republicans continuing to push for amendments. Supporters of Ukraine have been struggling for much of the past year to find a way to send more money to help Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's government.

Even if the aid bill eventually passes the Senate, it faces uncertainty in the House of Representatives. Dozens of Republican House members, particularly those most closely allied with former President Donald Trump, have voted against Ukraine aid, including Speaker Mike Johnson.

While lawmakers have approved more than $110 billion for Ukraine since Russia invaded in February 2022, Congress has not passed any major aid for Kyiv since Republicans took control of the House in January 2023.

GLOBAL MESSAGE

Supporters of Ukraine aid say Washington and its partners must send a unified message to Russia as well as globally.

U.S. allies agree. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said on social media that Republican senators should be ashamed for blocking the Ukraine aid package, saying former President Ronald Reagan would be "turning in his grave."

The Kremlin said Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke by phone on Thursday and both rejected what they called U.S. interference in the affairs of other countries.

Democratic Senator Chris Murphy, one of the three negotiators on the border deal, told Reuters the biggest potential risk to the Ukraine bill would be opposition by Trump.

"Once he got loud on the immigration bill, the thing fell apart ... if he turns his flamethrower on Ukraine, I wonder how it survives," Murphy said in an interview on Wednesday.

© Reuters. The U.S. Capitol building is seen in Washington, U.S., December 18, 2023. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz

Trump, who leads in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, has called for de-escalation in Ukraine and said he would have the conflict resolved in 24 hours if he were reelected. He also has said he would ask Europe to reimburse the U.S. for money sent to Ukraine.

Trump also pressed his fellow Republicans to reject any compromise on immigration. Tight control of the border is a feature of his campaign to try to defeat Democratic President Joe Biden in November.

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