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The Senate is pushing past far-right objections to aiding Ukraine. But next steps are uncertain

WASHINGTON –


The U.S. Senate is plodding past far-right Republican opposition to helping Ukraine fight Russia, working through the weekend on a US$95.3 billion military aid package for Kyiv, Israel and other allies that could be President Joe Biden’s last chance for now to deliver substantial American support.


Senators are holding a late-night vote Friday as they spin through procedural objections from a core group of Republicans. More closely aligned with Donald Trump, the GOP’s presidential front-runner, the Republican senators aren’t putting a priority on stopping Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion, which is the largest ground war in Europe since World War II.


Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told the senators he would be willing to amend the package to win over their support, but the New York Democrat also warned they would stay in session “until the job is done.”


Even if the foreign aid package gets off the ground in the Senate after this weekend’s session of Sunday voting, the package still faces a deeply uncertain future in the House. In that chamber, the Republican majority is even more hostile to helping the U.S. ally in Europe, as the war enters its second year.


Overall, the bill includes US$14.1 billion in military aid for Israel for the war with Hamas, US$8 billion for Taiwan and partners in the Indo-Pacific to counter China, and US$9.2 billion in humanitarian assistance for Gaza, among other provisions. It had stalled out for weeks, but is on track toward passage in the days ahead after a separate U.S. border security deal collapsed when Republicans rejected it.


Central to the package has always been the military aid for Ukraine, whose President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has personally visited Congress to plead for help, including in a whirlwind trip last December, as he tries to preserve his country.


Amid shortages on the battlefield, the package would unleash US$60 billion for Ukraine, mostly to purchase U.S.-made defense equipment, including munitions and air defense systems that authorities say it desperately needs as Russia batters the country. It includes US$8 billion for the government in Kyiv and other assistance.


Biden, speaking with the German chancellor on Friday at the White House, said it would be “close to criminal neglect” if the U.S. Congress fails to stand by its European ally.


“The failure of the United States Congress, if it occurs, not to support Ukraine, is close to criminal neglect,” Biden said. “It is outrageous.”


German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said: “Without the support of United States, and without the support of the European states, Ukraine will have not a chance to defend its own country.”


The resistance from the Republicans to helping Ukraine has been an intensifying but also stunning about-face for the party that once defined itself on a muscular foreign policy. In the Trump era, the GOP has latched on to a more isolationist approach, echoing his “America First” agenda with a more ambivalent attitude toward Putin’s aggression.


In a key vote Thursday, 17 Republican senators agreed to start debate on the bill — but 31 voted against it.


“Our job first and foremost is to protect this country,” Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, a leading opponent, said during a Friday night speech.


Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who has been critical of Biden’s handling of Ukraine and other national security issues, is nevertheless pushing past the isolationists in his party to marshal the national security package to passage.


McConnell has visited Zelenskyy in Kyiv and hosted the leader at the Capitol, and the Republican leader has tried to impress on his party the importance of investing in allies — and replenishing the U.S. industrial base that manufactures the weaponry being used to push back Russia.


“This is about rebuilding the arsenal of democracy and demonstrating to our allies and adversaries alike that we’re serious about exercising American strength.”


During Friday night’s floor debate, Sen. Dan Sullivan of Alaska, who served in the military as a Marine, emphasized most of the money goes “to build weapons, to build ammo” in states all across the U.S. with what he said would be thousands of American jobs.


“This is a generational investment in our ability to defend ourselves,” Sullivan said.


To draw in political support, the Senate leaders stripped out some economic assistance for Ukraine that many Republican senators objected to, leaving that to allies in the European Union, who overcame their own political opposition last week to approve an aid package.


Bundling the U.S. package with aid to Israel and Indo-Pacific allies has won over some Republicans, but has also drawn concerns from some Democrats as the humanitarian destruction in Gaza by Israeli forces deepens.


Panic hit the Gazan city of Rafah as Israel announced a planned evacuation of what is expected to be its next target in the four-month war that started with attacks by Hamas. An estimated 1.5 million people are sheltering there, more than half of Gaza’s population.


“I cannot find words,” Sen. Bernie Sanders, the independent from Vermont, said during a speech Friday.


Sanders said much of the U.S. money for Israel would allow Netanyahu to “buy more of the bombs he has used to flatten Gaza and killed thousands and thousands of children.”


“This is American complicity at its worse and it’s really quite unbelievable,” Sanders said. “Does the United States Congress really want to provide more military aid to Netanyahu so that he can annihilate thousands and thousands more men, women and children?”


Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and other Democrats announced they had secured a national security memorandum with the Biden administration to ensure the U.S. assistance is used in accordance to international and humanitarian law.


The Senate is not expected to take votes Saturday, but senators, who are on the brink of a two-week recess away from Washington, are expected back Sunday to push the package toward final votes.


The package would go to the House next, but Speaker Mike Johnson has not indicated if, or when, he would schedule any votes on it.

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