Senate won’t quit on Ukrainian aid

Boozman, Cotton vote against bill; backers push for another try today

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., left, and Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., arrive as the Senate holds a procedural vote on a package of wartime funding for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies, at the Capitol in Washington, Friday, Feb. 9, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., left, and Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., arrive as the Senate holds a procedural vote on a package of wartime funding for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies, at the Capitol in Washington, Friday, Feb. 9, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Senate is plodding past far-right Republican opposition to helping Ukraine fight Russia, working through the weekend on a $95.3 billion military aid package for Kyiv, Israel and other allies that could be President Joe Biden's last chance for now to deliver substantial American support.

Senators conducted a late vote Friday, advancing to next steps as they spin through objections from a core group of Republicans. More closely aligned with Donald Trump, the GOP's presidential front-runner, the Republican senators aren't putting a priority on stopping Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion.

Majority Leader Charles Schumer told the senators he would be willing to amend the package to win over more support, but the New York Democrat also warned they would stay in session "until the job is done."

Even if the foreign aid package gets off the ground in the Senate with possible voting today, the package still faces a deeply uncertain future in the House. In that chamber, the Republican majority is even more hostile to helping the U.S. ally in Europe, as the war enters its second year.

Attendance slipped Friday night as senators advanced the bill, 64-19, with 14 Republicans joining Democrats to move it forward.

Both of Arkansas' Republican senators, Tom Cotton and John Boozman, voted against advancing the bill.

Overall, the bill includes $14.1 billion in military aid for Israel for the war with Hamas, $8 billion for Taiwan and partners in the Indo-Pacific to counter China, and $9.2 billion in humanitarian assistance for Gaza, among other provisions. It had stalled out for weeks, but is on track toward passage in the days ahead after a separate U.S. border security deal collapsed when Republicans rejected it.

Central to the package has always been the military aid for Ukraine, whose President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has personally visited Congress to plead for help, including in a whirlwind trip in December, as he tries to preserve his country.

Amid shortages on the battlefield, the package would unleash $60 billion for Ukraine, mostly to purchase U.S.-made defense equipment, including munitions and air defense systems that authorities say it desperately needs as Russia batters the country. It includes $8 billion for the government in Kyiv and other assistance.

Biden, speaking with the German chancellor on Friday at the White House, said it would be "close to criminal neglect" if the U.S. Congress fails to stand by its European ally.

"The failure of the United States Congress, if it occurs, not to support Ukraine, is close to criminal neglect," Biden said. "It is outrageous."

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said: "Without the support of United States, and without the support of the European states, Ukraine will have not a chance to defend its own country."

The resistance from the Republicans to helping Ukraine has been an intensifying but also stunning about-face for the party that once defined itself on a muscular foreign policy. In the Trump era, the GOP has latched on to a more isolationist approach, echoing his "America First" agenda with a more ambivalent attitude toward Putin's aggression.

In a key vote Thursday, 17 Republican senators agreed to start debate on the bill -- but 31 voted against it.

"Our job first and foremost is to protect this country," Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, a leading opponent, said during a Friday night speech.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who has been critical of Biden's handling of Ukraine and other national security issues, is nevertheless pushing past the isolationists in his party to marshal the national security package to passage.

McConnell has visited Zelenskyy in Kyiv and hosted the leader at the Capitol, and the Republican leader from Kentucky has tried to impress on his party the importance of investing in allies -- and replenishing the U.S. industrial base that manufactures the weaponry being used to push back Russia.

"This is about rebuilding the arsenal of democracy and demonstrating to our allies and adversaries alike that we're serious about exercising American strength," McConnell said.

"Every single one of us knows what's at stake here. And it's time for every one of us to deal with it head-on," McConnell added.

Republicans conceded that they stood little chance of altering the proposal because doing so would require 60 votes, a threshold that is probably impossible to reach with only 49 Republican senators after they rejected the bipartisan border deal. Instead, the votes they are demanding, "realistically, would be more likely making a statement of where our conference is, rather than anything that would be folded into the bill," said Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C.

Tillis, one of 17 Republicans who voted to advance the earlier version of the bill this week, has said he expected to vote for the final foreign aid package, so long as Republicans get to try to make changes.

During Friday night's floor debate, Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan of Alaska, who served in the military as a Marine, emphasized most of the money goes "to build weapons, to build ammo" in states all across the U.S. with what he said would be thousands of American jobs.

"This is a generational investment in our ability to defend ourselves," Sullivan said.

GOP WISH LIST

Republicans, deeply divided over the legislation, have labored to decide what changes to seek. Their wish list included a severely restrictive border security bill that passed the House last spring with only Republicans on board. A vote on that measure would allow Senate Republicans to demonstrate solidarity with their House counterparts, even though it stands no chance of being added to the bill.

Republicans were also rallying behind a proposal to change federal rules governing how long migrant children can be held in detention facilities and to whom they are released. Trump tried to undo that standard when he was president, but he was blocked by the courts.

Republicans also want the chance to alter the foreign aid portions of the legislation. Sullivan has proposed to strip $7.9 billion in economic assistance for Ukraine from the bill, which he has said European nations could cover while the United States focuses on supplying Ukraine with weapons to fight Russia. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., wants to add legislation to extend and expand a program compensating Americans injured or sickened from exposure to fallout and waste from nuclear test sites.

Senators lamented that at least one Republican, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, was forcing the time-consuming procedural steps as often happens to register opposition.

To draw in political support, the Senate leaders stripped out some economic assistance for Ukraine that many Republican senators objected to, leaving that to allies in the European Union, who overcame their own political opposition earlier this month to approve an aid package.

Bundling the U.S. package with aid to Israel and Indo-Pacific allies has won over some Republicans, but has also drawn concerns from some Democrats as the humanitarian destruction in Gaza by Israeli forces deepens.

"I cannot find words," Sen. Bernie Sanders, the independent from Vermont, said during a speech Friday.

Sanders said much of the U.S. money for Israel would allow Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to "buy more of the bombs he has used to flatten Gaza and killed thousands and thousands of children."

"This is American complicity at its worse and it's really quite unbelievable," Sanders said. "Does the United States Congress really want to provide more military aid to Netanyahu so that he can annihilate thousands and thousands more men, women and children?"

Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and other Democrats announced they had secured a national security memorandum with the Biden administration to ensure the U.S. assistance is used in accordance to international and humanitarian law.

The Senate was not expected to take votes Saturday, but senators, who are on the brink of a two-week recess away from Washington, are expected back midday today, ahead of the Super Bowl, to push the package toward final votes.

The package would go to the House next, but Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., has not indicated if, or when, he would schedule any votes on it.

Information for this article was contributed by Lisa Mascaro and Kevin Freking of The Associated Press and by Karoun Demirjian of The New York Times.

  photo  Sen. Pete Ricketts, R-Neb., left, and Sen. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., finish for the night as the Senate holds a procedural vote on a package of wartime funding for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies, at the Capitol in Washington, Friday, Feb. 9, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
 
 
  photo  Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., arrives as the Senate holds a procedural vote on a package of wartime funding for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies, at the Capitol in Washington, Friday, Feb. 9, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
 
 
  photo  FILE - Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, center, is escorted by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., left, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., as he comes to the Capitol in Washington, to issue a plea for Congress to break its deadlock and approve continued wartime funding for Ukraine, Dec. 12, 2023. Two months later, that aid request had still not been met but Schumer and McConnell are keeping the Senate in session on Super Bowl weekend to force funding for Ukraine and Israel. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
 
 
  photo  The U.S> Capitol in Washington is illuminated Friday evening, Feb. 9, 2024, as the Senate settles in for a rare weekend session to work on a package of wartime funding for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
 
 
  photo  Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., walks to the chamber to work on a package of wartime funding for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies, at the Capitol in Washington, Friday, Feb. 9, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
 
 
  photo  President Joe Biden, right, meets with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in the Oval Office of the White House, Friday, Feb. 9, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
 
 
  photo  From left, Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., and Sen. Peter Welch, D-Vt., meet before a news conference to discuss a national security memorandum with the Biden administration aimed at ensuring all weapons acquired through U.S. security assistance is used in line with international law, including international humanitarian law, at the Capitol in Washington, Friday, Feb. 9, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
 
 

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