The Senate Votes to Begin Working on a Last-Ditch Effort to Approve Funds for Ukraine and Israel

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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., arrives at the Capitol while Republicans hold a closed-door meeting after blocking a bipartisan border package that had been tied to wartime aid for Ukraine, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON — The Senate on Thursday voted to begin work on a package of wartime funding for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies, but doubts remained about support from Republicans who earlier rejected a carefully negotiated compromise that also included border enforcement policies.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called the latest vote a “good first step” and pledged that the Senate would “keep working on this bill -- until the job is done.”

The legislation’s path remained uncertain because Senate leaders had not agreed to a process to limit the debate time for the bill. It could take days, possibly longer, for the Senate to reach a final vote.

The vote to begin work on the new package cleared 67-32, with 17 Republicans along with Democrats voting to move forward. Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont who opposes much of the aid for Israel, voted against it.

The New York Democrat has tried to salvage $60 billion in aid for Ukraine, as well as roughly $35 billion for Israel, other allies and national security priorities, after the collapse this week of a bipartisan agreement to tie border enforcement policies to the package. Republicans are divided about how to proceed, and GOP leaders were still scrambling to find a plan that their senators could back.

Senate Republicans were fractured and frustrated as Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky tried to find a way to squeeze the assistance for Ukraine through Congress. If the measure passes the Senate, it is expected to be even more difficult to win approval in the Republican-controlled House, where Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., has been noncommittal on the aid.

Some Republicans in the Senate have also vowed to do everything they could to delay final action.

“I’ll object to anything speeding up this rotten foreign spending bill’s passage,” said Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, on X.

The U.S. is already out of money to send missiles and ammunition to Kyiv, just as the nearly two-year-old war reaches a crucial juncture. Ukraine supporters say the drop-off in U.S. support is already being felt on the battlefield and by civilians. Russia has renewed its commitment to the invasion with relentless attacks.

“There are people in Ukraine right now, in the height of their winter, in trenches, being bombed and being killed,” said Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C.

Yet many of his Republican colleagues have expressed serious reservations about supporting a new round of funding for Ukraine. Even after rejecting the bipartisan border plan as insufficient, they have again insisted on tying border measures to the foreign aid.

“My priority is border security. It’s always been border security. I think we need a new bill,” said Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan.

It took Senate negotiators roughly three months of nearly round-the-clock work to craft the border proposal rejected by Republican senators — some of whom announced their opposition within minutes of the bill text being released.

As the deal collapsed, Schumer, a New York Democrat, moved to strip the border provisions from the legislation and create the standalone $95 billion package. It would send $14 billion in military aid to Israel, invest in domestic defense manufacturing, provide funding for allies in Asia, and allot $10 billion for humanitarian efforts in Ukraine, Israel, Gaza and other places.

The revamped package includes legislation to authorize sanctions and anti-money laundering tools against criminal enterprises that traffic fentanyl into the U.S. A separate section of the compromise border legislation that would have provided a long-awaited pathway to residency for tens of thousands of Afghan refugees was dropped in the slimmed-down bill.

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