U.S. Senate advances US$95 billion aid package, including US$60 billion for Ukraine

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky

12th February 2024 – (Washington) A sweeping U.S. foreign aid package, which includes $60 billion for Ukraine, has passed a crucial procedural vote on Sunday (11th February), although opposition from right-wing Republicans may hinder its passage into law.

The $95 billion aid package encompasses funding for Israel’s battle against Hamas militants and for Taiwan, a key strategic ally. However, the majority of the funds will be allocated to pro-Western Ukraine to replenish depleted ammunition supplies, weapons, and other vital resources as it enters its third year of war.

The Senate, with its slim Democratic majority, voted 67-27 to overcome the procedural hold on the bill, making it highly likely to pass a final vote with a simple majority by midweek.

Votes on weekends are uncommon in the Senate, and Sunday’s session coincided with the highly anticipated NFL championship game.

“I can’t recall the last time the Senate was in session on Super Bowl Sunday, but as I’ve said all week, we will continue working on this bill until the job is done,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer prior to the vote.

“As we speak, Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has turned parts of Eastern Europe into a war zone, unlike anything seen in the region since World War II,” the New York senator added.

“The only appropriate response to this threat is for the Senate to confront it fearlessly by passing this bill as soon as possible.”

The aid package seemed doomed after Republicans rejected an earlier version on Wednesday, which also included several US-Mexico border security measures they had been advocating for months. Under pressure from former President Donald Trump, who is running for office again and aims to exploit Joe Biden’s perceived weakness on immigration, Republicans seemingly decided to delay any border reforms until after the November elections.

However, Republican senators eventually relented in a dramatic vote on Thursday after Democrats completely separated the Ukraine aid from the border issue. The two parties have struggled to find common ground ahead of the elections, with much of the dysfunction being directly attributed to Trump. Despite losing the presidency to Biden in 2020 and facing multiple criminal charges, Trump is almost certain to be the Republican nominee in November.

Senate Republicans initially demanded border security measures as a prerequisite for supporting pro-Western Ukraine in its battle against the invasion launched by Putin in February 2022.

However, Trump accuses Biden of failing to resolve the border issue and has been openly skeptical about providing aid to Ukraine.

The hard-fought bipartisan compromise, which combined funding for Ukraine and Israel with some of the strictest immigration restrictions in decades, was initially hailed as a breakthrough on some of the country’s most critical issues.

Unfortunately, the plan crumbled within days of its release, as Trump urged lawmakers to reject it.

In a campaign speech on Saturday, he even threatened to withdraw defense support from NATO countries that fail to meet spending commitments. Biden condemned Trump’s “appalling and dangerous” remarks and warned that the Republican’s intentions would give Putin “a green light for more war and violence.”

Even if the foreign aid package progresses through the Senate, it will still need to pass the House of Representatives, which is much more favourable to Trump.

Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson has not indicated whether he would be willing to put a foreign aid-only bill to a vote on the floor.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky took to X, formerly Twitter, stating that the vote marked a “very important first step” in securing further aid for his country and a “bad day” for the Russian president.