Senate Republicans block aid for Israel and Ukraine, demand border policy changes

Package sending $10 billion to Jerusalem and $60 billion to Kyiv stalls despite Schumer pledge for later vote on security at southern US border; Biden says GOP giving Putin a ‘gift’

US President Joe Biden delivers remarks urging Congress to pass his national security supplement request, which includes funding to support Ukraine and Israel, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on December 6, 2023. (Mandel NGAN / AFP)
US President Joe Biden delivers remarks urging Congress to pass his national security supplement request, which includes funding to support Ukraine and Israel, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on December 6, 2023. (Mandel NGAN / AFP)

WASHINGTON — Republican senators blocked a White House request for $106 billion in emergency aid primarily for Israel and Ukraine Wednesday as conservatives balked at the exclusion of immigration reforms they had demanded as part of the package.

The vote marked a significant defeat for US President Joe Biden, who had warned Congress earlier in the day that Russian President Vladimir Putin would not stop with victory in Ukraine and could even attack a NATO nation.

The package would include roughly $60 billion to help Ukraine keep up pressure on Russia during the frigid winter months and around $10 billion for Israel in its conflict with the Hamas terror group, plus some aid for Taiwan.

Israel has been waging war on Hamas with a vow to topple its regime in the Gaza Strip, after thousands of terrorists burst into southern Israel on October 7 and launched a shock assault, killing some 1,200 people and taking at least 240 hostages into Gaza.

In the Republican-led House, Speaker Mike Johnson, who voted against aid to Kyiv before he took on the job, has made clear he will not agree to sending any more money without “transformative” changes to US border policy.

The Louisiana Republican has also declared that any Israel aid needs to be offset with spending cuts, a policy Democrats, the White House, and most Senate Republicans oppose.

Chuck Schumer, the Democratic Senate leader, had committed to holding a vote later on adding the US border security measures demanded by Republicans in a bid to secure the 60 votes needed to get it over its first procedural hurdle.

But the 49-strong Republican minority in the 100-member upper chamber voted en masse against moving forward, pointing to a lack of government action on the estimated 10,000 migrants crossing from Mexico daily.

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, Republican-Louisiana, talks on his phone as he heads to the chamber, at the Capitol in Washington, December 1, 2023. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

“Everyone has been very, very clear on this to say we’re standing firm. Now is the moment,” Senator James Lankford, a lead Republican negotiator on immigration and border issues, told Fox Business ahead of the vote.

“We’re completely out of control at the southern border, and it’s time to resolve this.”

Biden has led the global coalition backing Kyiv, but support has been waning among Republicans in Congress, and the administration has warned that it will run out of money for more Ukraine aid in weeks unless lawmakers act.

The president has been under pressure from progressives to reject sweeping conservative demands on immigration — which they say are akin to closing the border — but he vowed in an impassioned televised address he would accept “significant compromise.”

‘This cannot wait’

“This cannot wait. Frankly, I think it’s stunning that we’ve gotten to this point in the first place, where Republicans in Congress are willing to give Putin the greatest gift he could hope for,” Biden said.

The Democratic leader was speaking after a video summit with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and the leaders of G7 nations to discuss how to shore up Western aid for Kyiv.

Zelensky warned the leaders that Moscow was counting on Western unity to “collapse” next year and said Russia had ramped up pressure on the front lines of the war.

But the precarious prospects for the aid package had been clear since a classified Ukraine briefing for senators Tuesday saw several Republicans walk out, angry that there was no talk of border security.

Sen. James Lankford, Republican-Oklahoma, speaks to media about Israel, on Capitol Hill in Washington, October 18, 2023. (Stephanie Scarbrough/AP)

Zelensky had been due to address the meeting via video link but canceled at the last minute.

Centrist Democrat Joe Manchin — often a thorn in the side of the White House — voiced support for the security package, but only because of Schumer’s pledge that amendments on border security could be added later.

“In the greatest country on Earth, we do not have to choose between protecting our homeland and defending our allies,” he said.

Senators of both parties acknowledged they will need to move quickly if a deal is to be struck. Congress is scheduled to be in Washington for just a handful more days before the end of the year. The White House, meanwhile, has sounded the alarm about what would happen if they don’t approve more funding soon, saying Ukraine’s military would be stalled, or even overrun.

Republicans argue the record numbers of migrants crossing the southern border pose a security threat because border authorities cannot adequately screen them. They also say they cannot justify to their constituents sending billions of dollars to other countries while failing to address the border at home.

So far, senators have found agreement on raising the initial standard for migrants to enter the asylum system. But they’ve been at odds over placing limitations on humanitarian parole, a program that allows the executive branch to temporarily admit migrants without action from Congress.

Sen. Joe Manchin, Democrat-West Virginia, speaks during the US Capitol Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony on the West Front of the Capitol, in Washington, November 28, 2023. (Mark Schiefelbein/AP)

Even if the president and senators somehow find a way forward on border security, any agreement would face significant obstacles in the House. Hardline conservatives who control the chamber have vowed to block it unless it tacks to a broad set of forceful border and immigration policies.

The US State Department separately announced a stopgap $175 million tranche of new aid for Ukraine on Wednesday, including prized HIMARS rockets, shells, missiles, and ammunition.

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