© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The U.S. Capitol Building is seen in Washington, U.S., August 15, 2023. REUTERS/Kevin Wurm/File Photo
By David Morgan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The Democratic-led U.S. Senate on Tuesday passed a $95.34 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, although it faced an uncertain path ahead in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
The lawmakers approved the measure in a 70-29 vote that comfortably exceeded the chamber’s 60-vote threshold for passage and sent the legislation on to the House. Twenty-two Republicans joined most Democrats to support the bill.
“It’s certainly been years, perhaps decades, since the Senate has passed a bill that so greatly impacts not just our national security, not just the security of our allies, but the security of Western democracy,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in the Senate shortly after the predawn vote.
Schumer told a news conference later on Tuesday he was confident the bill would pass the House with support from both parties if Republican Speaker Mike Johnson would allow a vote.
“I call on Speaker Johnson to rise to the occasion, to do the right thing: Bring this bill to the floor quickly,” Schumer said.
It was not clear that Johnson would do so, having issued a statement before the Senate vote faulting it for lacking conservative provisions to stem a record flow of migrants across the U.S.-Mexico border.
Ukraine leadership sees the funding as crucial as it continues to repel Russian attacks and tries to keep its battered economy going as the war nears its third year. U.S. President Joe Biden has been pushing Congress to pass more aid for Ukraine for months, but has faced opposition from Republican hardliners, particularly in the House.
The House has not passed major assistance for Ukraine since Republicans took control of the chamber in January 2023.
The Senate vote occurred before sunrise, after eight hardline Republican opponents of Ukraine aid held a marathon of speeches that dominated the chamber floor from Monday afternoon into the early hours on Tuesday.
The package also includes funds for Israel, humanitarian aid for Palestinians in Gaza and funds to help Taiwan and other U.S. partners in the Indo-Pacific stand up against China.
Ukrainian officials have warned of weapons shortages at a time when Russia is pressing ahead with renewed attacks.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy quickly hailed passage of the bill. “American assistance brings just peace in Ukraine closer and restores global stability, resulting in increased security and prosperity for all Americans and all the free world,” Zelenskiy said on the social platform X.
Both houses of Congress must approve the legislation before Biden can sign it into law.
ROCKY ROAD AHEAD
Senate Republicans last week blocked a bill that would have coupled aid for Ukraine and other allies with the most sweeping changes to border policy in decades, after Donald Trump, the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, loudly criticized that deal.
Backers of the Ukraine aid package have been warily watching Trump’s reaction. So far the former president has criticized it on social media, saying it should take the form of a loan, and also worried U.S. allies over the weekend by suggesting he could encourage aggression against NATO members who he believes don’t pay enough for NATO.
“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 his statement issued late 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.
Hardline Republicans predicted the Senate legislation would be dead on arrival in the House.
“The bill before us today … will never pass in the House, will never become law,” Republican Senator Rick Scott of Florida said in an early morning floor speech.
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.