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How Trump blocked US aid for Ukraine – to help his bid to beat Biden

The marathon overnight session in the Senate to pass a funding bill for Ukraine is a relief for Kyiv and for Europe.

It’s yet to pass the House of Representatives, though.

It may well not.

And the whole episode is indicative of an almighty American political mess with huge implications.

The real story isn’t that the US Senate has done its part in passing the spending bill for Ukraine.

Ukraine latest: Zelenskyy reacts to crucial US Senate vote

It’s actually about how we got to this point, and it is a story of raw, ugly politics.

It is about American leadership, and it is about the extent to which Donald Trump is already shaping global geo-politics.

It’s a tale that cuts to the heart of America’s political chaos, but it’s not altogether straightforward so bear with me…

‘Secure our own borders first’ – the Republican plan

Late last year, with America’s cyclical funding contribution for Ukraine in need of being renewed, a new proposed bill was sent from the White House down Pennsylvania Avenue to Congress for approval.

That’s where the problems began.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks about the aid package for Ukraine, from the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., February 13, 2024. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Image:
Joe Biden speaks about the aid package for Ukraine from White House. Pic: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

Republicans, with justified concerns about America’s domestic challenges, saw an opportunity.

Conservative America has huge worries about the Biden Administration’s immigration policy and the chaotic status of the country’s southern border with Mexico – which, incidentally, dwarf Europe’s immigration challenges.

And so, Republicans decided to predicate their support for the Ukraine-Israel-Taiwan spending bill on Biden and the Democrats doing something about America’s border-migration chaos.

The Republicans sold it as “why should we be helping Ukraine secure its own borders when our own are wide open”.

It’s an argument that resonates well in conservative parts of today’s America.

MIGRATION-USA/MEXICO
Image:
Mexico-US border. Pic: Reuters

The Democrats though saw it as an unacceptable conflation of two distinct challenges which put Ukraine’s victory against Russia, and European security, in peril.

Nevertheless, they faced it head on. Biden and the Democrats produced their most conservative policy ever for America’s southern border. It largely addressed the Republican concerns.

They were ready to put a broad “Southern border-Ukraine/Israel/Taiwan” package through Congress.

Here’s where the raw politics comes in.

Trump got what he wanted – and rejected it anyway

Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill rejected the Democrat domestic border proposals – the very proposals they had been calling for.

Why? Because Trump urged them to reject them. He even threatened that Republicans who voted for the border package would find their careers at an end.

Pic: Reuters
Image:
Trump was the sole reason Republican lawmakers rejected Democrat domestic border proposals. Pic: Reuters

Trump and his allies recognised that a chaotic southern border helps him. If Biden sorted out the border, then he’d get the credit; it’s no longer a tool for Trump as he seeks to beat Biden in November’s election.

And so, with the overwhelming power he holds over conservative lawmakers in the lower house of Congress, he managed to block the southern border bill.

The whole package fell apart. Ukraine’s ability to defend itself and the security of America’s southern border were both in jeopardy and the victims of raw politics.

This prompted the Democrats to return to the original plan – not to conflate the domestic border with foreign spending.

So, they pushed through the Ukraine-Israel-Taiwan bill on its own.

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Today that passed the Senate – congress’s upper house – inhabited on the right by more traditional, less Trumpian Republicans.

The question now is what Trump’s foot-soldiers in the lower house will do.

Echoing into their lower chamber, the House of Representatives, from the Senate across the hall, are the words of the traditionalist titan of the Republican Party – and no fan of Donald Trump – Senator Mitt Romney:

“Now, I know that the shock jocks and online instigators have riled up many in the far reaches of my party. But if your position is being cheered by Vladimir Putin, it’s time to reconsider your position.”

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