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Ukraine Aid Passes US Senate, Faces Uphill Battle in House

(Bloomberg) -- The US Senate approved $95 billion in assistance for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan after months of delay, but the legislation still faces formidable obstacles in the House.

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The uncertainty over more American aid persists as Ukraine struggles with dwindling supplies, infighting among the country’s leaders and Russian forces on the offensive.

After a grueling all-night session, the Senate voted 70 to 29 early Tuesday to approve the emergency national security funding package, which includes $60 billion in war aid for Ukraine alongside funding for Israel, Taiwan and humanitarian aid for Gaza.

In the end, 22 Republicans supported it while two Democrats and Independent Senator Bernie Sanders voted against it due to concerns about Israel’s actions in Gaza.

The measure faces an uncertain future in the House, however.

Republican leaders in the US House have demanded that President Joe Biden first take action to reduce undocumented migration into the US before any Ukraine aid can pass. Yet, a painstakingly negotiated border enforcement deal was dropped from the assistance package following opposition from Donald Trump, the Republican presidential frontrunner, who derided the compromise as a “gift” to Democrats.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy welcomed the bill in a statement on X, saying “American assistance brings just peace in Ukraine closer and restores global stability, resulting in increased security and prosperity for all Americans and all the free world.”

Read More: Zelenskiy’s Ugly Fight With General Exposes Split in Ukraine

But House Speaker Mike Johnson is under threat from ultraconservative members not to allow move forward on Ukraine aid to pass without the immigration concessions that are anathema to Democrats, such as forcing all asylum seekers to remain in Mexico and building a border wall. Johnson issued a statement late Monday rejecting the Senate bill, saying it failed to address the border crisis.

“America deserves better than the Senate’s status quo,” he said.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said in a news conference shortly after the vote that he plans to speak directly with Johnson on a path forward. He added that he will tell the speaker he is “confident there is a large majority in the House who will vote for this bill.”

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, a top supporter of Ukraine’s war effort, has said he sees no way Johnson can allow a vote on the Ukraine aid package.

There is a way around the speaker, however, under the House rules. House Democrats can force a bill to the floor via a rarely used parliamentary procedure if enough Republicans who support Ukraine join them.

That process takes time and Republicans like Rogers already say they won’t join in such a maneuver. Traditionally, majority party members are reluctant to go against the speaker’s wishes, but urgency to act on Ukraine has increased as its supplies have dwindled.

Oklahoma’s Markwayne Mullin doubted whether there would be enough Republican votes for such a discharge petition, citing the timing right before filing deadlines for potential primary challengers in many states. He also predicted there would be many Democrats who would not sign a discharge petition out of opposition to Israel’s war tactics against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Some Senate Republicans who support Ukraine aid in principle, including Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Mullin of Oklahoma, backed an idea floated by Trump over the weekend in a social media post that would make the foreign aid to Ukraine and other countries zero-interest loans with no scheduled repayments.

Mullin told reporters Monday night he and other senators discussed the idea with Trump earlier in the day, and said it could be part of a path for aid for Ukraine to get through the House.

GOP Divide

The Senate debate over Ukraine funds has been a flashpoint in the conflict within the Republican Party between Ronald Reagan-style defense hawks like Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Trump allies who argue for a smaller American presence on the international stage.

McConnell argued that Ukraine aid is really an investment in US military capability.

“History settles every account. And today, on the value of American leadership and strength, history will record that the Senate did not blink,” McConnell said in a statement after the vote.

Read More: Waning McConnell Is Last GOP Bulwark Against Trump Isolationism

The US defense industry stands to gain about $35 billion overall from the Senate package.

Fellow Kentucky Republican Rand Paul helped lead the charge against the bill and held up final passage for days.

European Frustrations

European officials, who recently approved a more than $50 billion aid package for Ukraine, have been increasingly concerned by the delays in Washington.

The Pentagon said at the end of December that it had run out of money to support Ukraine.

--With assistance from Bill Faries.

(Updates with Schumer comments in 10th paragraph)

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