US Senate advances ‘enormously high stakes’ $95 billion Ukraine, Israel aid package

With no guarantees House of Representatives Republicans will support bill, Democratic majority leader Schumer calls funding ‘a down payment for the survival of Western democracy’

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer arrives at the Capitol in Washington, February 8, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer arrives at the Capitol in Washington, February 8, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The US Senate on Monday will attempt to steer a $95.34 billion package containing aid for Ukraine and Israel to passage, following months of delays, even as it lacked any guarantee that House of Representatives Republicans will support it.

The measure cleared an important procedural hurdle a day earlier in a 67-27 vote, with the support of 18 of the chamber’s 49 Republicans. Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Monday was aiming to push it through two more procedural hurdles in order to put it on a path to passing on Wednesday.

“These are enormously high stakes of the national security package. Our security, our values, our democracy. It’s a down payment for the survival of Western democracy and the survival of Western values,” Schumer said on Monday after rare back-to-back Saturday and Sunday Senate sessions to work on the bill.

“The entire world is going to remember what the Senate does in the next few days,” he said.

US President Joe Biden, a Democrat, has been urging Congress to hurry new aid to Ukraine and US partners in the Indo-Pacific, including Taiwan, for months. Following Hamas’s deadly October 7 attack on Israel, he also requested funds for the US ally, along with humanitarian aid for Palestinians in Gaza.

Ukrainian officials have warned of weapons shortages at a time when Russia is pressing ahead with renewed attacks.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (L) speaks to the press as he meets with US President Joe Biden in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, on December 12, 2023. (Mandel NGAN / AFP)

But in order to become law, the bill must pass the House as well as the Senate, and the House has not passed any major aid for Ukraine since Republicans took control of the chamber in January 2023.

House Speaker Mike Johnson voted against earlier Ukraine aid bills when Democrats held a House majority and has not committed to allowing a vote on the current measure even if it passes the Senate.

‘Very difficult’

Senator Susan Collins, the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee, said there had still been no deal between Democrats and Republicans on possible amendments to the bill by mid-day Monday.

“Unless objections are withdrawn, it’s going to be very difficult to have the robust amendment process that most of us want to have,” she said in the Senate.

For months, Republicans had insisted that any additional aid to Israel and Ukraine must also address the high numbers of migrants arriving at the US-Mexico border.

But last week, at the urging of former US president Donald Trump, most Senate Republicans voted to kill a bipartisan security bill that had been crafted over four months and was seen as the most significant border security and immigration reform effort in at least a decade.

Republican presidential candidate former US president Donald Trump speaks at a Get Out The Vote rally at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, South Carolina, February 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

The House instead this week is expected to try again to impeach Biden’s Homeland Security Secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, the top official responsible for the border.

Schumer stripped the border security language from the bill last week.

Some Republican senators, including those most closely allied with Trump, have called for yet another overhaul of the bill.

Senator Lindsey Graham said portions of the US aid should be converted into loans and only “lethal aid,” not humanitarian aid, be included in the package. And he called for US border security provisions, although so far his party has not unveiled border-related amendments.

The US gives Israel $3.8 billion in military assistance each year, ranging from fighter jets to powerful bombs that could destroy Hamas tunnels. Biden has been asking Congress to approve an additional $14 billion during the war in Gaza, which erupted after thousands of Hamas terrorists burst across the border, killing some 1,200 people and kidnapping over 250, mostly civilians.

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