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US senators set vote on precarious Ukraine aid package

US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said legislators 'cannot simply shirk from our responsibilities' toward border security and Ukraine (Brendan Smialowski)
US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said legislators 'cannot simply shirk from our responsibilities' toward border security and Ukraine (Brendan Smialowski)

The US Senate will vote next week on a border security package that would unlock vital aid for Ukraine, Democrats announced Thursday, as President Joe Biden hailed a $54 billion package approved by the war-torn nation's European allies.

Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader of the upper chamber of Congress, said an initial vote on the bipartisan bill would take place on Wednesday at the latest -- although its prospects for being signed into law look vanishingly small.

"Addressing these challenges is not easy. But we cannot simply shirk from our responsibilities just because a task is difficult," Schumer said, adding that the text would be released between Friday and Sunday.

Senators have been negotiating for months on a deal to combat illegal immigration, with Republicans insisting on increased border security in return for approving a White House request for more than $60 billion for pro-Western Kyiv, which saw its invasion by Russia greatly expanded in 2022.

Mike Johnson, the speaker in the Republican-led House of Representatives, has declared the package "dead on arrival," claiming without seeing the text that it does not go far enough in tackling a record influx of undocumented migrants across the southern border.

Former president Donald Trump -- who is running for reelection and is desperate to avoid Biden getting a legislative win -- has been speaking out loudly against the bill, which also includes money for Israel in its conflict with Hamas militants.

Trump enjoys near-universal support among House Republicans, and his opposition is expected to kill the package's prospects of reaching Biden's desk.

The Democratic president called European Union chief Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday to thank her for the bloc's approval of 50 billion euros ($54 billion) in aid for Ukraine, the White House said.

Biden welcomed the "significant financial aid package" which will "go a long way to helping Ukraine as they continue to battle back against Russia's aggression," National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters.

Biden called to "applaud the European Union's historic decision," the White House said, and "commended the European Union's steadfast support for Ukraine as it continues to defend itself against Russian aggression and fulfill the Euro-Atlantic aspirations of its citizens."

Von der Leyen "emphasized the critical importance of sustained US support to Ukraine, which has been indispensable to Ukraine's efforts to defend its people, cities and soldiers in its fight for freedom," according to the White House readout of the call.

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