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Bipartisan Senate majority passes $95 billion foreign aid package

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

They hemmed and they hawed for months. And then just when it looked like it had all fallen apart, a bipartisan majority of 70 U.S. senators voted to advance $95 billion in military aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. But it's not a done deal. It now heads to the House of Representatives, where, even before the final vote was cast, Speaker Mike Johnson said the House would focus on its own plans. NPR congressional reporter Eric McDaniel is with us to talk about this. Good morning.

ERIC MCDANIEL, BYLINE: Hey there.

FADEL: So a middle-of-the-night vote after a weekend of debate in the Senate - why were they so focused on getting this bill done, even if it meant working through the Super Bowl and staying up all night to vote?

MCDANIEL: Look, I'll be the first to tell you, they sometimes keep some odd hours in the Senate, working late into the evening when I would prefer to be at home. But you definitely don't expect this kind of burning the midnight oil from a body where the median age of a senator is 65 years old.

FADEL: Yeah, I was wondering why they were up...

MCDANIEL: Nevertheless, 99 senators...

FADEL: ...When I was up.

MCDANIEL: Yeah, 99 senators were there. The vote started around 5:15 a.m. Ninety-year-old Chuck Grassley showed up to vote as well. The vote would be - was so late because a group of frustrated Republicans essentially talked all night to slow things down. But this came after months of negotiating, trying to meet GOP demands to link this foreign military aid to a border deal. That totally fell apart last week, and there was general agreement that the issue was important enough to U.S. interests - in countering Russia, in deterring Chinese aggression - that they had to get something done anyway, even if this was a bill that Senate Republicans had already voted down once previously. Here's Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MITCH MCCONNELL: Our partners don't have the luxury of pretending that the world's most dangerous aggressors are someone else's problem, and neither do we.

MCDANIEL: And, Leila, it's not hard to imagine that McConnell was also pretty mindful of GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump's comments over the weekend. Trump said he'd ignore the U.S. commitment to the NATO military alliance, which is broadly credited with keeping the peace in Europe since World War II.

FADEL: OK, yeah. So not everybody, though, was on board. This was a vote 70-29. Three Democrats voted no, in large part over concern about the killing of thousands of civilians, more than 11,000 of them children, in Israel's war in Gaza. But a majority of Republicans also voted no. What was their opposition?

MCDANIEL: It's a big question, and I think it says as much about the future of the Republican Party as it does about this vote in particular. This was something that McConnell obviously cared about. You heard him there. But for the senators more closely aligned with Donald Trump's anti-alliance, America-first wing, this is just not the kind of foreign commitment that makes sense. Let's focus on South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham for a second. He's long been emblematic of this kind of pro-military intervention, pro-military aid, robust leader of the free world Republican mindset. But he's also grown close to Donald Trump, right? Last night, in a statement, he announced his opposition to this deal and called for changes to the bill in the House when it gets to the House that Trump had suggested. In some ways, that's a surprise coming from him, given his policy legacy. But it's also just kind of part and parcel of the fact that this Mitch McConnell, Mitt Romney, John McCain era of the Republican Party is basically at a close.

FADEL: Well, after all this staying up all night, a vote at 5:15 a.m. - with so much opposition from Republicans, does this proposal now just go collect dust on the House side of the Capitol building?

MCDANIEL: There are certainly folks who want to see some portions of this get out the door. For House Republicans, that's mostly about Israel. They've advanced multiple Israel aid bills that have been wholesale ignored by the Senate. President Biden has clear - has been clear that he wants all of this aid to move at once. Maybe Speaker Johnson breaks these countries apart and holds a vote on each - one for Ukraine, one for Taiwan, one for Israel. There's some chance they could garner support that way, majorities they need to pass using different kind of coalitions for each. But he's been so hostile to this that it's really hard for me to say how this gets done. And the challenge is Republican demands have largely shifted over the last few months.

FADEL: NPR congressional reporter Eric McDaniel. Thank you, Eric.

MCDANIEL: Thanks, Leila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Eric McDaniel edits the NPR Politics Podcast. He joined the program ahead of its 2019 relaunch as a daily podcast.
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