Washington — The Senate approved a major foreign aid package Tuesday, as a bipartisan group of senators propelled the long-delayed legislation over the finish line after an overnight session. But new, steep opposition from House Speaker Mike Johnson has thrown the bill’s prospects in the lower chamber into question.
The vote on final passage of the $95 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel and the Indo-Pacific was 70 in favor to 29 opposed early Tuesday morning. The upper chamber pushed through a number of procedural hurdles in recent days, remaining in Washington through the weekend despite a planned recess that was set to begin this week.
The vote comes months after the White House requested the supplemental funding package, when Republicans demanded that the foreign aid be tied to enhanced border security measures. But when a long-sought bipartisan border security agreement was released last week, and then quickly rejected after former President Donald Trump weighed in, the deal’s prospects in Congress disappeared. But soon after, Schumer made a push to proceed with the aid package without the border provisions.
For a short period, the foreign aid package itself appeared to be threatened in the Senate by GOP opposition. Some Republicans wanted an opportunity to amend the bill to include border security provisions, even though they had rejected the bipartisan deal days earlier. And Trump has similarly railed against the legislation in recent days, worsening its prospects among his allies. But enough moderate Republicans and Democrats ultimately coalesced to ensure the bill would pass.
Still, getting the package approved became a slog this week as Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, slowed the bill’s march toward passage at every opportunity.
Paul took to the floor on Monday to filibuster the bill, warning in a lengthy floor speech that “they will take the $60 billion to Kyiv, crack the champagne,” while the U.S.-Mexico border sees an influx of migration.
“We have a disaster at our southern border and ranking Republicans and the ranking Democrats — there is no difference, they’re on the same team — they’ll be on the same plane to Kyiv,” Paul said.
Nevertheless, most of his Senate colleagues ultimately backed the bill, as defense hawks warned of the national security implications should the U.S. fail to back its allies.
“I know it’s become quite fashionable in some circles to disregard the global interests we have as a global power, to bemoan the responsibilities of global leadership, to lament the commitment that is underpinned the longest drought of great power conflict in human history,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor Sunday. “This is the idle work for idle minds, and it has no place in the United States Senate.”
But even with the upper chamber’s approval, the legislation’s prospects in the House grew dimmer Monday night.
Whether the House would take up a Senate-passed foreign aid bill remains to be seen. Though House Speaker Mike Johnson was noncommittal last week when asked whether the lower chamber would vote on the bill, he clarified his position on Monday night. Hours ahead of the vote, he released a statement steeped in criticism about the aid package, while suggesting that the House would not consider the bill.
“The mandate of national security supplemental legislation was to secure America’s own border before sending additional foreign aid around the world,” Johnson said in the statement. “Now, 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.”
The calculus for Johnson, who took the reins of the chamber and its narrow GOP majority in late October, appears complicated. While there may be a group of House moderates ready to back the foreign aid bill, among many House conservatives, additional aid for Ukraine is a nonstarter. And some House progressives may feel similarly about additional aid to Israel.
House leaders tried to approve standalone Israel aid in a vote last week, which required the backing of two-thirds of the chamber under suspension of the rules. But support for the move fell short, complicating the attempt to separate Israel aid — a high priority for House Republicans — from the broader foreign aid package.
Should Johnson ultimately decide not to bring the foreign aid package to the floor, it remains possible that Democrats and some moderate Republicans could force a vote with a discharge petition. The idea has appeared to gain traction in recent days, but the maneuver would be a heavy lift and would fly in the face of GOP leadership, with no guarantee of success.
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First published on February 13, 2024 / 6:43 AM EST
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