US Senate lurches toward possible early passage of Ukraine aid bill By Reuters
2024-02-13 12:20:04

By David Morgan, Richard Cowan and Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The Democratic-led U.S. Senate moved towards the final passage of a $95.34 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan on Monday, amid growing doubts about the legislation's fate in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

The lawmakers voted 66-33 to exceed a 60-vote margin and sweep aside the last procedural hurdle before final consideration of the bill. Senate leaders had expected a vote on passage sometime on Wednesday.

But on Monday night, hardline Republicans opposed to further U.S. aid for Ukraine took to the Senate floor for a marathon of speeches that aides said would likely exhaust their debate time early Tuesday morning and allow Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to move to passage later in the day.

Both houses of Congress must approve the legislation before Democratic President Joe Biden can sign it into law.

But the bill could face long odds in the House, where Speaker Mike Johnson said his Republican majority wanted conservative provisions to address a record-level flow of migrants across the U.S.-Mexico border.

"In the absence of having received any single border policy change from the Senate, the House will have to continue to work its own will on these important matters," Johnson said in a statement issued just before the Senate began voting on Monday.

"America deserves better than the Senate's status quo," said Johnson, who has suggested in the past that the House could split the legislation into separate bills.

Senator John Thune, the chamber's No. 2 Republican, said it was not clear what Johnson would do.

"The House, I assume, is going to move on something. Obviously, they're going to address Israel," Thune said.

Senator Ron Johnson, a hardliner opposed to the legislation, offered a more grim outlook, based on what he described only as knowledgeable sources.

"They're saying this goes nowhere in the House," Johnson told reporters.

The legislation includes $61 billion for Ukraine, $14 billion for Israel in its war against Hamas and $4.83 billion to support partners in the Indo-Pacific, including Taiwan, and deter aggression by China.

It would also provide $9.15 billion in humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza and the West Bank, Ukraine and other conflict zones around the globe.

Republicans had demanded for months that the foreign aid bill include border restrictions. But a bipartisan border deal, negotiated over the course of months, ran afoul of most Senate Republicans after Donald Trump, the party's leading White House candidate, rejected the agreement.

Schumer stripped the border security language from the bill last week.

Trump, who hopes to use the border issue to unseat Biden in the November election, has since said that aid to U.S. allies should instead take the form of loans.

Biden has been urging Congress to hurry new aid to Ukraine and U.S. partners in the Indo-Pacific, including Taiwan, for months. After Hamas' Oct. 7 attack on Israel, he also requested funds for the U.S. ally, along with humanitarian aid for Palestinians in Gaza.

Ukrainian officials have warned of weapons shortages at a time when Russia is pressing ahead with renewed attacks.

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