Biden signs $95bn foreign aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan

<span>Joe Biden speaks after signing into law a bill providing fresh aid to Ukraine on Wednesday.</span><span>Photograph: Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters</span>
Joe Biden speaks after signing into law a bill providing fresh aid to Ukraine on Wednesday.Photograph: Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters

Joe Biden has signed into law a bill that rushes $95bn in foreign aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, a bipartisan legislative victory he hailed as a “good day for world peace” after months of congressional gridlock threatened Washington’s support for Kyiv in its fight to repel Russia’s invasion.

The Senate overwhelmingly passed the measure in a 79 -18 vote late on Tuesday night, after the package won similarly lopsided approval in the Republican controlled House, despite months of resistance from an isolationist bloc of hardline conservatives opposed to helping Ukraine.

“It’s going to make America safer. It’s going to make the world safer,” Biden said, in remarks delivered from the White House, shortly after signing the bill.

“It was a difficult path,” he continued. “It should have been easier and it should have gotten there sooner. But in the end, we did what America always does. We rose to the moment, came together, and we got it done.”

The White House first sent its request for the foreign aid package to Congress in October, and US officials have said the months-long delay hurt Ukraine on the battlefield. Promising to “move fast”, Biden said the US would begin shipping weapons and equipment to Ukraine within a matter of hours.

Biden admonished “Maga Republicans” for blocking the aid package as Ukrainian soldiers were running out of artillery shells and ammunition as Iran, China and North Korea helped Russia to ramp up its aerial assault on Ukrainian cities and critical infrastructure.

Rejecting the view that Ukraine is locked in an unwinnable conflict that has become a drain on US resources, Biden hailed Ukraine’s army as a “fighting force with the will and the skill to win”.

But the president also pressed the case that supporting Ukraine was in the national security interest of the US.

“If [Vladimir] Putin triumphs in Ukraine, the next move of Russian forces could very well be a direct attack on a Nato ally,” he said, describing what would happen if article 5 of the alliance’s charter, which requires the collective defense of a member in the event of an outside attack.

“We’d have no choice but to come to their aid, just like our Nato allies came to our aid after the September 11 attacks.”

He also promoted the bill as an investment in America’s industrial base, spurring the production of military equipment in states like Alabama, Arizona, Ohio and Pennsylvania, where some of the factories are located.

The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who had pleaded for help replenishing his country’s emptying war chest during a December visit to Washington, expressed gratitude to the president and lawmakers for pressing ahead with the security bill despite its long odds.

“I am grateful to the United States Senate for approving vital aid to Ukraine today,” he wrote on X, adding: “Ukraine’s long-range capabilities, artillery, and air defense are critical tools for restoring just peace sooner.”

The aid comes at a precarious moment for Ukraine, as the country’s beleaguered army attempts to fend off Russian advances. Zelenskiy has said Ukraine badly needed air defense systems and “long-range capabilities”.

Shortly after the president signed the foreign aid bill, the Pentagon announced plans to “surge” $1bn in new military assistance to Ukraine. The package includes air defense interceptors, artillery rounds, armored vehicles, and anti-tank weapons.

In total the legislation includes $60.8bn to replenish Ukraine’s war chest as it seeks to repel Russia from its territory; $26.3bn for Israel and humanitarian relief for civilians in conflict zones, including Gaza; and $8.1bn for the Indo-Pacific region to bolster its defenses against China.

In an effort to attract Republican support, the security bill includes a provision that could see a nationwide ban on TikTok. The House also added language mandating the president seek repayment from Kyiv for roughly $10bn in economic assistance in the form of “forgivable loans”, an idea first floated by Donald Trump, who has stoked anti-Ukraine sentiment among conservatives.

Related: Billionaire Jeff Yass linked to $16m in donations to anti-Muslim and pro-Israel groups

Although support for the package was overwhelming, several Democrats have expressed their concern with sending Israel additional military aid as it prosecutes a war that has killed more than 34,000 people in Gaza and plunged the territory into a humanitarian crisis. Three progressive senators, Bernie Sanders, Peter Welch of Vermont and Jeff Merkley of Oregon, voted against the bill for its inclusion of military support to Israel.

On Wednesday, Biden called the aid to Israel “vital”, especially in the wake of Iran’s unprecedented aerial assault on the country. Israel, with help from the US, UK and Jordan, intercepted nearly all of the missiles and drones and there were no reported fatalities. The attack had been launched in retaliation against an Israeli strike on an Iranian consular site in Syria.

“My commitment to Israel, I want to make clear again, is ironclad,” Biden said. “The security of Israel is critical. I will always make sure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself against Iran and terrorists who it supports.”

Biden’s abiding support for Israel’s war in Gaza has hurt his political standing with key parts of the Democratic coalition, especially among young people. As he spoke, students at some of the nation’s most prestigious universities were demonstrating against the war.

Biden emphasized that the bill also increases humanitarian assistance to Gaza, touting his administration’s efforts to pressure Israel to allow more aid into the devastated territory. But House Republicans added a provision to the bill prohibiting funds to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, Unrwa, a “lifeline for the Palestinian people in Gaza” that Israel has sought to disband.

An independent review published this week said that Israel had yet to present evidence of its claims that employees of the relief agency are affiliated with terrorist organizations.

“We’re going to immediately secure that aid and surge it, including food, medical supplies, clean water, and Israel must make sure all this aid reaches the Palestinians in Gaza without delay,” Biden said.

Biden’s signatures marks the conclusion of the grueling journey on Capitol Hill. It was not clear whether the bill had a path forward amid the opposition of the newly installed House speaker, Mike Johnson, who holds a tenuous grip on his party’s vanishingly thin majority.

Under pressure from his right flank, Johnson initially refused to allow a vote on Ukraine aid unless it was paired with a border clampdown. But then Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, derailed a bipartisan border bill that included significant concessions to hardline conservatives, determined not to hand Biden an election-year victory on an issue that plays to his political advantage.

Lobbied by the White House, European allies and pro-Ukraine Republicans, the House speaker finally relented, risking his job to bypass rightwing opposition and pass the foreign aid bill with the help of Democrats.

Biden noted the absence of the immigration reform measure, which he called the “strongest border security bill this country has ever seen”, and committed to returning to the issue at another time.

Despite the dysfunction in Washington, Biden said passing the bill proved a guiding principle of his presidential campaign: that there was enough goodwill left to forge compromise where it matters.

“This vote makes it clear,” he said. “There is a bipartisan consensus for that kind of American leadership. That’s exactly what we’ll continue to deliver.”