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Ukraine war effort at risk as US senators block funding

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell speaks to the media on Capitol Hill in Washington
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell speaks to the media on Capitol Hill in Washington - STEPHANIE SCARBROUGH/AP

Senate Republicans on Wednesday blocked the advance of a $110 billion (£87 billion) package of wartime funding for Ukraine and Israel as they pressed their demands for tougher immigration measures at the Mexico border.

The vote, a 49-51 tally that fell short of the Senate’s 60-vote threshold for moving ahead, came just hours after President Joe Biden said it was “stunning” that Congress has not yet approved tens of billions of dollars in military and economic assistance for Ukraine.

His administration warned of dire consequences for Kyiv – and a “gift” to Russia’s Vladimir Putin – if lawmakers don’t act.

The vote was along party lines, with every Senate Republican voting “no” along with Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent who generally votes with Democrats but had expressed concerns about funding Israel’s “current inhumane military strategy” against Palestinians.

The bill would provide about $50 billion (£40 billion) in new security assistance for Ukraine, as well as money for humanitarian and economic aid for the government in Kyiv, plus $14 billion (£11 billion) for Israel as it battles Hamas in Gaza.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, also voted “no” so that he could introduce the measure again in the future. After the vote, Mr Schumer noted the risks if Ukraine falls, saying it was a “serious moment that will have lasting consequences for the 21st century,” risking the decline of Western democracy.

Republicans said it was essential to make their case for tighter immigration policies and control of the southern border.

“Today’s vote is what it takes for the Democratic leader to recognize that Senate Republicans mean what we say,” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said in a floor speech earlier on Wednesday. “Then let’s vote. And then let’s finally start meeting America’s national security priorities, including right here at home.”

Even if the bill passes the Senate, it still would need to be approved in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, where dozens of Republicans have voted against Ukraine aid, including Speaker Mike Johnson.

Congressional Republicans and Democrats have been debating for months how to address Biden’s request for billions of dollars in funding for Ukraine as it fights Russian invaders, for Israel following the Oct 7 attacks by Islamist Hamas militants, for US interests in the Indo-Pacific, and for international humanitarian relief.

The White House’s two requests for Congress to pass spending bills have failed to advance, and tempers have become increasingly frayed on Capitol Hill as the impasse threatens to stretch into 2024. Democrats argue that aid for allies is essential to support global democracy and ward off autocracy.

“Make no mistake, today’s vote is going to be long remembered. History is going to judge harshly those who turned their backs on freedom’s cause,” Mr Biden said in remarks at the White House.

A group of Senate Democrats called a press conference to argue that blocking the bill would send a message to both US adversaries and allies that the United States does not stand with its international partners.

“This is running out. We have but a few days for us to make clear, positive progress toward working out the final details necessary for us to show that the United States is a reliable ally,” Senator Chris Coons said.

Excessive illegal immigration

Republicans contend that excessive illegal immigration across the southern border with Mexico is a hugely important security concern, and say they want more accountability than they are getting from the Biden administration for US taxpayer funds that go to Ukraine.

The emergency spending bill included $20 billion (£16 billion) for border security.

Mr Biden said he supported more funding for tighter controls at the frontier with Mexico.

“I am willing to make significant compromises on the border,” he said. “We need to fix the broken border system. It is broken.”

The US leader added that he was ”ready to change policy as well” but accused Republicans of wanting a political issue more than bipartisan compromise.

“Republicans think they get everything they want without any bipartisan compromise,” Mr Biden said. “Now they’re willing to literally kneecap Ukraine on the battlefield and damage our national security in the process.”