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Senate overwhelmingly passes aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan with big bipartisan vote

Senate overwhelmingly passes aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan with big bipartisan vote
Senate overwhelmingly passes aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan with big bipartisan vote

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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) gives a thumbs-up as he arrives for a press conference after the Senate passed a foreign aid bill at the US Capitol on April 23, 2024 in Washington, DC.

The Senate has passed $95 billion in war aid to Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan, sending the legislation to President Joe Biden after months of delays and contentious debate over how involved the United States should be in foreign wars. The bill passed the Senate on an overwhelming 79-18 vote late Tuesday, April 23, after the House had approved the package Saturday. Biden, who worked with congressional leaders to win support, said in a statement immediately after passage that he would sign it Wednesday and start the process of sending weapons to Ukraine, which has been struggling to hold its front lines against Russia.

Read more Subscribers only US House of Representatives passes new aid package for Ukraine after six months of deadlock

“I will sign this bill into law and address the American people as soon as it reaches my desk tomorrow so we can begin sending weapons and equipment to Ukraine this week,” said Biden, who added that the bill’s passage proved America stands “resolutely for democracy and freedom, and against tyranny and oppression.”

The legislation would also send $26 billion in wartime assistance to Israel and humanitarian relief to citizens of Gaza, and $8 billion to counter Chinese threats in Taiwan and the Indo-Pacific. US officials said about $1 billion of the aid could be on its way shortly, with the bulk following in the coming weeks.

In an interview with The Associated Press shortly before the vote, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, said that if Congress hadn’t passed the aid, “America would have paid a price economically, politically, militarily.”

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‘We will stand with you’

On the Senate floor, Schumer said the Senate was sending a message to US allies: “We will stand with you.” Schumer and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell made passage of the legislation a top priority, agreeing to tie the Ukraine and Israel aid to help ensure passage and arguing there could be dire consequences for the United States and many of its global allies if Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression is left unchecked.

They worked with House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Republican, to overcome seemingly intractable Republican opposition to the Ukraine aid, in particular – eventually winning large majorities in both chambers.

McConnell said in a separate interview before the vote that it “is one of the biggest days in the time that I’ve been here.” “At least on this episode, I think we turned the tables on the isolationists,” McConnell said.

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In the end, 31 Republicans voted for the aid package – nine more than when the Senate passed a similar version in February, and a majority of the Senate GOP conference. The House approved the package in a series of four votes on Saturday, with the Ukraine portion passing 311-112.

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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 as Russia has seized the momentum on the battlefield and gained significant territory.

Biden told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Monday the US will send badly needed air defense weaponry as soon as the legislation is passed. Zelensky thanked the US Senate on Wednesday: “I thank Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Republican Leader Mitch McConnell for their strong leadership in advancing this bipartisan legislation, as well as all US Senators on both sides of the aisle who voted in favor of it,” he posted on social media minutes after the bill passed.

In an effort to gain more votes, Republicans in the House majority also added a bill to the foreign aid package that could ban the social media app TikTok in the US if its Chinese owners do not sell their stake within a year. That legislation had wide bipartisan support in both chambers.

Read more Subscribers only ‘In the case of TikTok, the US risks losing some of its moral high ground’

The TikTok bill was one of several tweaks Johnson did to the package the Senate passed in February as he tried to move the bill through the House despite significant opposition within his conference. Other additions include a stipulation that $9 billion of the economic assistance to Ukraine is in the form of “forgivable loans”; provisions that allow the US to seize frozen Russian central bank assets to rebuild Ukraine; and bills to impose sanctions on Iran, Russia, China and criminal organizations that traffic fentanyl.

Those changes appear to have brought some of the nine additional Senate Republicans on board, bringing support to more than half of McConnell’s conference.

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, a longtime hawk who voted against the foreign aid package in February because it wasn’t paired with legislation to stem migration at the border, was one of the Republicans who switched their votes. “If we don’t help Ukraine now, this war will spread, and Americans who are not involved will be involved,” Graham 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 US involvement in foreign wars and argue that Congress should be focused instead on the surge of migration at the US-Mexico border.

‘We did our work here’

Ohio Senator J.D. Vance, a Republican who is a close ally to Donald Trump, said that despite the strong showing of support for funding Ukraine’s defense, opposition is growing among Republicans. “The United States is spread too thin,” Vance said, “And that that argument I think, is winning the American people and it’s slowly winning the Senate, but it’s not going to happen overnight.”

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.

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. Johnson, who said he 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.

Johnson said after the House passage that “we did our work here, and I think history will judge it well.” Opponents in the Senate, like the House, included some left-wing senators who are opposed to aiding Israel as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has bombarded Gaza and killed thousands of civilians. Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, voted against the package. “We must end our complicity in this terrible war,” Sanders said.

Le Monde with AP and AFP

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