Senate set to advance Ukraine aid after roller-coaster House battle

Senate set to advance Ukraine aid after roller-coaster House battle

The Senate on Tuesday is at last set to advance legislation providing aid to Ukraine, moving Congress toward the end of a months-long battle that raised questions about the survival of Mike Johnson’s (R-La.) Speakership and Kyiv’s defenses.

Senators will hold the first procedural vote on the $95 billion aid package Tuesday afternoon, starting a 30-hour clock toward a vote on final passage. That would take place Wednesday night absent a deal on amendments, with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) increasingly likely to let the clock wind down instead.

“The prevailing thought now is that Schumer will make them grind out the clock,” one Senate Republican told The Hill.

The lawmaker noted Schumer is hesitant to grant a vote to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) related to the ongoing Israeli-Hamas war in Gaza. Sanders over the weekend said he is pushing for a pair of amendments — one that would put conditions on military aid for Israel and another to restore funding for the United Nations’s agency for Palestinian refugees, known as UNRWA, for its work in Gaza.

If a deal is struck, any amendment vote is widely expected to fail as alterations to the package would force the House, which is in recess this week, to vote on it again.

While the timing of a final vote is unknown, the result is not. The House’s aid bill is expected to win almost every Senate Democrat and about half of the Republican conference, passing with ease after a tortuous process that got lawmakers to this point.

Proponents and backers of Kyiv, including Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), have been pounding the tables since late last summer urging for another round of funding for the war-torn country, but had been thwarted by conservative opposition for much of the process. That led members down a winding road that included a three-month border negotiation detour, with conservatives killing the bipartisan bill as soon as it was released.

But faced with the situation on the ground in Ukraine, where its military is being forced to ration bullets and quickly running out of munitions against Russia, and in Gaza, where Israel continues its war with Hamas, Johnson ultimately figured out his own pathway.

“I think he’s informed and educated himself well on the subjects … and concluded that the right place to land is where he has, and I give him credit for doing that,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said. “It’s hard, and it takes a lot of courage these days in the House, when your political base over there is in a different place.”

The package includes four bills, featuring aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, with a fourth proposal including a potential ban on TikTok and the REPO Act, which would greenlight the sale of Russian assets that have been seized.

This is despite an ongoing mutiny by conservatives who are furious that Johnson has moved off his position that any bill must also deal with the U.S. border and has relied on Democratic votes in recent key negotiations, including for the Ukraine bill and to fund the government.

“[The conservative base] is absolutely done with Republican leadership like Mike Johnson, who’s totally sold us out to the Democrats,” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) railed Monday, adding that the Speaker has “betrayed everyone” and that he must be “held accountable” via a motion-to-vacate push.

Greene’s attempt to oust Johnson has only three known supporters at this point and is facing a major uphill climb as Democrats seem poised to back him to maintain the gavel.

One of the lone questions surrounding the Senate vote this week is whether Republicans will be able to win the majority of the conference this go-around. The supplemental vote in February saw only 22 Republicans vote for the bill, with 29 members opposed only days after the border bill was nixed.

The intraparty battle was on display Sunday as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) laid into Sen. JD Vance (R-Ohio) during a Sunday show appearance over what he said were “garbage” assertions that Ukraine does not have the manpower to deal with Russian forces.

“That is garbage,” Graham told “Fox News Sunday.” “I just got back from being there two weeks ago. They changed their conscription laws. They have all the manpower they need. They need the weapons.”

“I challenge JD Vance to go to Ukraine and get a briefing from the Ukrainian military and talk to the Ukrainian people, and then tell me what you think. … We’re going back, you’re welcome to come,” he continued. “Quit talking about things you don’t know anything about until you go.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky lauded the actions of Congress during an interview with “Meet The Press,” saying the move ensures Ukraine has “a chance for victory” and “will not be the second Afghanistan.” Just a week before, Zelensky noted that Ukrainian forces were unable to stop a Russian attack on the Kyiv region’s biggest power plant because they did not have enough missiles.

“We need to get it approved by the Senate,” Zelensky said. “And then we want to get things as fast as possible so that we get some tangible assistance for the soldiers on the front as soon as possible — not in another six months — so that they will be able to move ahead.”

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