Congress clears $40B in Ukraine aid for Biden’s signature, but some in GOP balk
WASHINGTON – U.S. senators voted overwhelmingly Thursday to send President Joe Biden a $40 billion aid package for Ukraine that will provide additional economic, humanitarian, and military support to the country.
The 86-11 vote marks the second time Congress cleared a multibillion-dollar package since Russia invaded in late February. Negotiators opted both times to increase the amount of money the White House requested. Biden has said he will sign the legislation.
Republicans were the only ones to vote against the fresh infusion of aid, with some saying the U.S. shouldn’t be involved in the war Russia began when it invaded Ukraine and others saying they didn’t want to add to the national debt.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, rejected those arguments Thursday when he said it is a “moral responsibility” for U.S. lawmakers to “support a sovereign democracy’s self-defense.”
“Anyone concerned about the cost of supporting a Ukrainian victory should consider the much larger cost should Ukraine lose,” McConnell said.
The most expensive thing the United States could do in the long run, McConnell added, “would be to stop investing in sovereignty, stability, and deterrence.”
Republican Sens. Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty of Tennessee, John Boozman of Arkansas, Mike Braun of Indiana, Mike Crapo of Idaho, Josh Hawley of Missouri, Mike Lee of Utah, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, Roger Marshall of Kansas, Rand Paul of Kentucky, and Tommy Tuberville of Alabama voted against the bill.
Rand Paul objection
Senate leaders from both political parties wanted to pass the multibillion-dollar package last week, but Kentucky’s Paul objected to a quick vote, demanding that lawmakers add a provision to the bill that would have put the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction in charge of overseeing the Ukraine aid.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, agreed to hold a vote on an amendment, but Paul objected.
Schumer said Wednesday it was “repugnant” for Paul to delay final approval of the Ukraine aid bill.
“For Senator Paul to delay Ukraine funding for purely political motives is to only strengthen (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s hand,” Schumer said.
The package Congress cleared Thursday is roughly $7 billion more than the $33 billion Biden asked U.S. lawmakers to provide in late April, with negotiators boosting funding for both military and humanitarian assistance.
The bill would provide more than $20 billion to the U.S. Defense Department to continue sending a wide array of military equipment to Ukraine and to restock equipment it has sent to Ukrainian troops so far.
The U.S. State Department would receive $14 billion for several programs, including refugee assistance, economic support, and diplomatic programs.
An additional $4.4 billion would go to the U.S. Agency for International Development to address worldwide food shortages that have worsened without Ukrainian exports of agriculture products.
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission would get $2 million to support Ukraine’s nuclear regulatory agency.
No COVID-19 funding yet
The legislation doesn’t include billions in funding to address COVID-19 domestically and abroad, though U.S. lawmakers have restarted talks in an attempt to reach a third bipartisan agreement that can make it to Biden’s desk.
The White House originally asked Congress in early March to provide $22.5 billion for testing, treatments, and vaccines. And Biden renewed those calls when he asked Congress for more funding for Ukraine.
Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy said Thursday he was frustrated Congress still hasn’t passed a spending measure to bolster U.S. supplies of COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics, and tests.
After two years and more than 1 million Americans dead, Leahy said, he was concerned the country was going to be caught “flat-footed because we’ve refused to prepare for the worst.”
“A new wave of cases is expected to crash over our country in the fall,” Leahy said.
Republican and Democratic negotiators have twice reached bipartisan agreement on the COVID-19 added spending.
The first bill would have provided more than $15 billion and the second bill would have allocated $10 billion, though neither measure made it to the floor for votes.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, pulled that $15 billion measure from a much larger government funding package amid concerns from numerous Democrats that the new spending was paid for, in part, by pulling back funding from a previous coronavirus relief package meant for state governments.
The second bipartisan agreement, reached by Utah GOP Sen. Mitt Romney and Schumer, stalled after Republican leaders said they needed an amendment vote on Title 42 before allowing the coronavirus aid bill to advance.
The Trump-era designation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that allows border patrol officials to turn away migrants is set to end later this month. Republicans and centrist Democrats want to see the program continue until they believe the Biden administration could handle the expected uptick in migrants crossing the Southwestern border.
Pelosi said last week the latest round of COVID-19 talks will start at the $22.5 billion number Biden originally requested.
“Since the $10 billion was discussed the threat has increased,” Pelosi said. “As some of the Republican senators said, ‘Well, if the threat increases, then let’s talk about it further.’ So I think we should talk about what we need.”
Pelosi added she was “confident” negotiators could reach another agreement.