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Senate moves forward on Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan aid bill

The Senate on Thursday cleared its first hurdle in advancing President Joe Biden’s massive aid request for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan after months of moribund negotiations. But even if the Senate passes the $95 billion legislation in the coming days, its fate remains uncertain in the House.

Senators voted 67-32 to clear the first procedural hurdle needed to advance the bill, which also includes additional funding for the submarine-industrial base, U.S. Central Command and U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.

“If we abandon our friends in Ukraine to [Russian President] Vladimir Putin, history will cast a shameful and permanent shadow on senators who block funding,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on Wednesday ahead of the vote. “It is a matter of the highest national urgency that we get this right.”

The vote came after Democrats dropped immigration policy changes from the legislation after two months of negotiations, which Senate Republicans had initially demanded as the price for unlocking the foreign aid funding. But Republicans backtracked on the deal this week as former President Donald Trump, the front-runner in the party’s presidential primary, came out against coupling foreign aid with an immigration deal.

It’s possible the Senate may vote on amendments as the foreign aid bill proceeds, providing a potential opening to alter the legislation for Republicans opposed to Ukraine assistance and Democrats who seek human rights conditions on Israel aid amid the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Although Ukraine aid initially enjoyed strong bipartisan support, Republican opposition to additional assistance has grown over the last several months. The Biden administration in December used its last tranche of Ukraine aid funds from previous assistance packages, while Kyiv faces artillery and ammunition shortages.

Congress has passed a cumulative $113 billion in economic and security aid for Ukraine since Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022. Israel receives an annual $3.8 billion per year in U.S. military aid.

The Senate bill includes another $60 billion in security and economic aid for Ukraine, $48.4 billion of which is for military support. It also includes an additional $14 billion in Israel aid.

On top of that, there’s nearly $4 billion in military aid for Taiwan and other Indo-Pacific security partners, plus $2 billion to get the submarine-industrial base on course for the AUKUS agreement with Australia and Britain. U.S. Indo-Pacific Command would get another $542 million to respond to its fiscal 2024 unfunded priorities list.

The bill also adds $2.4 billion for U.S. Central Command to resupply munitions it used in response to the ongoing attacks from Iran-backed proxies in the Middle East since the Israel-Hamas war began in October 2023.

The Republican-held House failed to pass a stand-alone Israel aid bill on Tuesday amid both opposition from most Democrats concerned about the lack of Ukraine assistance, and Republicans with the conservative Freedom Caucus unhappy with the legislation’s lack of budgetary offsets.

House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., previously said the key to unlocking Ukraine aid is immigration restrictions, but he also declared the Senate’s deal on the U.S southern border “dead on arrival” as soon as the text came out Sunday.

House Armed Services Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Ala., who supports Ukraine aid, told reporters Wednesday that the lower chamber may split off individual pieces of the Senate bill into separate votes — though Johnson has yet to commit to a path forward.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said Congress must move “with alacrity on the supplemental.”

“Whatever may be the fastest way to do it, we need to do it,” DeLauro said. “We can’t leave Israel hanging, Ukraine hanging, humanitarian assistance hanging, Indo-Pacific. That is irresponsible and frankly immoral.”

Bryant Harris is the Congress reporter for Defense News. He has covered U.S. foreign policy, national security, international affairs and politics in Washington since 2014. He has also written for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.