Israel aid bill heads to US Senate for final approval after months of delay

Overall $95B package, which includes aid for Ukraine and Taiwan and provisions against TikTok, will send $17B in military aid to Israel, and likely $2B in humanitarian aid for Gaza

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., right, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., left, stand during a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony for surviving members of a top-secret WWII unit, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, March 21, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., right, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., left, stand during a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony for surviving members of a top-secret WWII unit, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, March 21, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The US Senate is returning to Washington on Tuesday to vote on $95 billion in war aid to Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan, taking the final steps in Congress to send the legislation to President Joe Biden’s desk after months of delays and contentious internal debate over how involved the United States should be abroad.

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 to hold the front lines as Russia has seized the momentum on the battlefield and forced Ukraine to cede significant territory.

Biden told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Monday that the US will soon send badly needed air defense weaponry. The House approved the package Saturday in a series of four votes, sending it back to the Senate for final approval.

“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,” Zelensky said in a post on X.

The legislation also would send $17 billion in defense aid to Israel, and some $9 billion providing humanitarian relief to people in Gaza as well as other war-torn regions (the final decision on allocation was up to the White House, with analysts expecting roughly $2 billion would go to Gaza).

It also features $8 billion to counter China in Taiwan and the Indo-Pacific. In an effort to gain more votes, Republicans in the House majority also added a bill to the package that could ban the social media app TikTok in the US if its Chinese owners do not sell their stake within a year.

The foreign aid portion of the bill is similar to what the Senate passed in February with some minor changes and additions, including the TikTok bill and a stipulation that $9 billion of the economic assistance to Ukraine is in the form of “forgivable loans.”

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 US involvement in foreign wars and argue that Congress should be focused instead on the surge of migration at the US-Mexico border.

US President Joe Biden, right, meets with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in the Oval Office of the White House, September 21, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The growing fault line in the GOP between those conservatives who are skeptical of the aid and the more traditional, “Reagan-era” Republicans who strongly support it may prove to be career-defining for the two top Republican leaders. Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, who has made 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 issue and others. House Speaker Mike Johnson, who put the bills on the floor after praying for guidance, faces threats of an ouster after a majority of Republicans voted against them.

McConnell has made clear that stopping Putin is important enough for him to stake his political capital.

“The national security of the United States depends on the willingness of its leaders to build, sustain and exercise hard power,” McConnell said after House passage Saturday, adding, “I make no apology for taking these linked threats seriously or for urging the Biden administration and my colleagues in Congress to do the same.”

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

The Senate could pass the aid package, now combined back into one bill, as soon as Tuesday afternoon if senators are able to agree on the timing for a vote. If Republicans who oppose the legislation decide to protest and draw out the process, final votes would likely be Wednesday.

The legislation was first passed by the Senate in February on a sweeping 70-29 vote, and it could get even more votes this time after the House added in the loan provisions. The idea for a loan started with former President Donald Trump, who had been opposed to the aid.

Activists supporting Ukraine, demonstrate outside the Capitol in Washington, April 20, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a longtime GOP hawk who voted against it in February because it wasn’t paired with legislation to stem migration at the border, praised Johnson after the vote and indicated he will vote for it this time. “The idea that the United States will be safer if we pull the plug on our friends and allies overseas is wrong,” he said on X.

The revised House package also included several Republican priorities that were acceptable to Democrats to get the bill passed. Those include proposals that allow the US to seize frozen Russian central bank assets to rebuild Ukraine; impose sanctions on Iran, Russia, China and criminal organizations that traffic fentanyl; and could eventually ban TikTok in the US if the owner, ByteDance Ltd., doesn’t sell. That bill has wide bipartisan support in the House and Senate.

Opponents in the Senate, like the House, are likely to include some left-wing senators who are opposed to aiding Israel because of the country’s war in Gaza, which has killed thousands of civilians. Vermont Sens. Bernie Sanders, an independent, and Peter Welch, a Democrat, both voted against the package in February.

“This bill provides Netanyahu $10 billion more in unrestricted military aid for his horrific war against the Palestinian people,” Sanders said on X just before that vote. “That is unconscionable.”

The war between Israel and Hamas broke out following Hamas’s October 7 onslaught against Israel. During the massacre, the terror organization killed nearly 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapped 253.

The ensuing Israeli offensive has killed over 33,000 people, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry. This figure cannot be independently verified and includes over 13,000 terrorists Israel says it has killed since the beginning of the war.

The Times of Israel Staff contributed to this report

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