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Aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan advances in Senate with big bipartisan vote

By MARY CLARE JALONICK, Associated Press
Published: April 23, 2024, 12:50pm
3 Photos
Activists supporting Ukraine demonstrate outside the Capitol in Washington, Saturday, April 20, 2024, as the House prepares to vote on approval of $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies. (AP Photo/J.
Activists supporting Ukraine demonstrate outside the Capitol in Washington, Saturday, April 20, 2024, as the House prepares to vote on approval of $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) Photo Gallery

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to move ahead with $95 billion in war aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, bringing the bill to the brink of passage after months of delays and contentious internal debate over how involved the United States should be abroad.

The vote to end a filibuster drew the support of 80 senators — 10 more than supported the bill when the Senate first passed it in February — virtually guaranteeing that the bill will soon reach President Biden’s desk. A final vote could come as soon as Tuesday evening.

The $61 billion for Ukraine comes as the war-torn country desperately needs new firepower and as Russian President Vladimir Putin has stepped up his attacks. Ukrainian soldiers have struggled to hold the front lines as Russia has seized the momentum on the battlefield and gained significant territory.

Bidentold Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Monday the U.S. will send badly needed air defense weaponry as soon as the legislation is passed. The House approved the package Saturday in a series of four votes, sending it back to the Senate for final approval.

“The President has assured me that the package will be approved quickly and that it will be powerful, strengthening our air defense as well as long-range and artillery capabilities,” Zelenskyy said in a post on X.

In fact, U.S. officials said about $1 billion of the aid could be on its way shortly, the bulk following in coming weeks.

The legislation also would send $26 billion in wartime assistance to Israel and humanitarian relief to citizens of Gaza, and $8 billion to counter China in Taiwan and the Indo-Pacific. In an effort to gain more votes, Republicans in the House majority also added a bill to the package that could ban the social media app TikTok in the U.S. if its Chinese owners do not sell their stake within a year.

The foreign aid portion of the bill is similar to what the Senate passed in February with some minor changes and additions, including the TikTok bill and a stipulation that $9 billion of the economic assistance to Ukraine is in the form of “forgivable loans.”

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Those changes appears to have brought nine additional Republicans on board, meaning a clear majority of the Senate GOP conference supports the legislation. The February vote on an earlier version of the bill was 70-29.

Opening the Senate Tuesday morning, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the coming vote was “six months in the making.”

“Let us not keep our friends around the world waiting for a moment longer,” Schumer said.

The package has had broad congressional support since Biden first requested the money last summer. But congressional leaders had to navigate strong opposition from a growing number of conservatives who question U.S. involvement in foreign wars and argue that Congress should be focused instead on the surge of migration at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The growing fault line in the GOP between those conservatives who are skeptical of the aid and the more traditional, “Reagan Republicans” who strongly support it may prove to be career-defining for the two top Republican leaders.

Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, who has made the Ukraine aid a top priority, said last month that he would step down from leadership after becoming increasingly distanced from many in his conference on the Ukraine aid and other issues. Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson, who put the bills on the floor after praying for guidance, faces threats of an ouster after a majority of Republicans voted against the aid to Ukraine.

McConnell has made clear that stopping Putin is important enough for him to stake his political capital.

“The national security of the United States depends on the willingness of its leaders to build, sustain, and exercise hard power,” McConnell said after House passage Saturday, adding, “I make no apology for taking these linked threats seriously or for urging the Biden administration and my colleagues in Congress to do the same.”

On Tuesday morning, McConnell said the Senate faces a test, “and we must not fail it.”

Johnson said after House passage that “we did our work here, and I think history will judge it well.”

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a longtime GOP hawk who voted against it in February because it wasn’t paired with legislation to stem migration at the border, praised Johnson after the vote and indicated he will vote for it this time. “The idea that the United States will be safer if we pull the plug on our friends and allies overseas is wrong,” he said on X.

The revised House package also included several Republican priorities that were acceptable to Democrats to get the bill passed. Those include proposals that allow the U.S. to seize frozen Russian central bank assets to rebuild Ukraine; impose sanctions on Iran, Russia, China and criminal organizations that traffic fentanyl; and potentially ban TikTok in the U.S. if the owner, ByteDance Ltd., doesn’t sell. That bill has wide bipartisan support in the House and Senate.

Opponents in the Senate, like the House, are likely to include some left-wing senators who are opposed to aiding Israel as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has bombarded Gaza and killed thousands of civilians. Vermont Sens. Bernie Sanders, an independent, and Peter Welch, a Democrat, both voted against the package in February.

“This bill provides Netanyahu $10 billion more in unrestricted military aid for his horrific war against the Palestinian people,” Sanders said on X just before that vote. “That is unconscionable.”