Foreign Aid Bill Passes Senate, Faces Uphill Battle in House

(Bloomberg News/TNS) —
Airmen with the 436th Aerial Port Squadron use a forklift to move 155 mm shells ultimately bound for Ukraine, April 29, 2022, at Dover Air Force Base, Del. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

The U.S. Senate approved $95 billion in assistance for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan after months of delay, but the legislation still faces formidable obstacles in the House.

The uncertainty over more American aid persists as Ukraine struggles with dwindling supplies, infighting among the country’s leaders and Russian forces on the offensive.

By a vote of 70 to 29 Tuesday morning following an all-night session, the Senate approved the emergency national security funding package, which includes $60 billion in war aid for Ukraine alongside funding for Israel, Taiwan and humanitarian aid for Gaza.

Republican leaders in the House have demanded that President Joe Biden first take action to reduce illegal immigration before any Ukraine aid can pass. Yet a painstakingly negotiated border enforcement deal was dropped from the assistance package following opposition from Donald Trump, the Republican presidential frontrunner, who derided the compromise as a “gift” to Democrats.

House Speaker Mike Johnson is under threat from conservative members not to allow Ukraine aid to pass without extracting immigration concessions that are anathema to Democrats, such as forcing all asylum seekers to remain in Mexico and building a border wall. Johnson issued a statement late Monday rejecting the Senate bill, saying it failed to address the border crisis. 

“America deserves better than the Senate’s status quo,” he said.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, a top supporter of Ukraine’s war effort, has said he sees no way Johnson can allow a vote on the Ukraine aid package.

Some Senate Republicans who support Ukraine aid in principle, including Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma, backed an idea floated by Trump over the weekend in a social media post that would make the foreign aid to Ukraine and other countries zero-interest loans with no scheduled repayments.

Mullin told reporters Monday night he and other senators discussed the idea with Trump earlier in the day, and said it could be part of a path for aid for Ukraine to get through the House.

Opposition from Johnson and Trump allies means they won’t be bringing the Senate bill up for a standalone vote in the House. There is a way around the speaker, however, under the House rules. House Democrats can force a bill to the floor via a rarely used parliamentary procedure if enough Republicans who support Ukraine join them. 

That process takes time and Republicans like Rogers already say they won’t join in such a maneuver. Traditionally, majority party members are reluctant to go against the speaker’s wishes, but urgency to act on Ukraine has increased as its supplies have dwindled.

Mullin doubted whether there would be enough Republican votes for such a discharge petition, citing the timing right before filing deadlines for potential primary challengers in many states. He also predicted there would be many Democrats who would not sign a discharge petition out of opposition to Israel’s war tactics against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Republican Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina, a supporter of the package, told reporters that one group of Republicans who could theoretically sign a discharge petition would be those who have announced they aren’t running for reelection. 

The Senate debate over Ukraine funds has been a flashpoint in the conflict within the Republican Party between Ronald Reagan-style defense hawks like Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Trump allies who argue for a smaller American presence on the international stage. 

McConnell argued that Ukraine aid is really an investment in U.S. military capability. 

“Security assistance appropriated in support of Ukraine is money invested in America,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “Every one of our colleagues is capable of understanding that the investments this legislation makes in expanding production capacity — from artillery rounds to rocket motors to submarines — are investments in readiness for long-term competition with China.”

The U.S. defense industry stands to gain about $35 billion overall from the Senate package. 

Fellow Kentucky Republican Rand Paul helped lead the charge against the bill and held up final passage for days. 

“It’s a terrible idea to put forward and pass a bill that tries to secure other countries’ borders before we secure our own,” he said on the social media site X. He told reporters Monday night that he hoped to delay aid long enough to force a ceasefire in Ukraine.

European officials, who recently approved a more than $50 billion aid package for Ukraine, have been increasingly concerned by the delays in Washington.

The Pentagon said at the end of December that it had run out of money to support Ukraine. 

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