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Senate advances military aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan

The Senate voted with a wide bipartisan margin to approve a foreign aid package despite signs from Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., that the bill will not get a vote in the House.
Catie Dull
/
NPR
The Senate voted with a wide bipartisan margin to approve a foreign aid package despite signs from Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., that the bill will not get a vote in the House.

Updated February 13, 2024 at 3:01 PM ET

A bipartisan majority in the U.S. Senate voted 70-to-29 to advance a $95 billion foreign aid package, despite warnings from House Republicans that the bill may never receive a vote.

The package contains no changes to U.S. border policy, despite early insistence by Republicans that they would not support foreign aid provisions — which provide military support for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan — without substantial changes to the Biden administration's border policies.

But after months of bipartisan negotiation produced a border-plus-foreign-aid deal unveiled earlier this month, the plan withered in a matter of days. Many Republican senators announced their opposition to the 300-plus-page bill within hours of its release. Some stated explicitly that they hoped to preserve the border crisis as an issue for the 2024 campaign season and echoed concerns about the deal raised by GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump.

Now House Republicans, who rejected the previous bipartisan deal for failing to meet hard-line demands on border provisions, say they will also reject the stand-alone security funding.

House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., released a statement Monday night well before the final vote was scheduled in the Senate.

"The mandate of national security supplemental legislation was to secure America's own border before sending additional foreign aid around the world," Johnson wrote. "It is what the American people demand and deserve. Now, in the absence of having received any single border policy change from the Senate, the House will have to continue to work its own will on these important matters. America deserves better than the Senate's status quo."

Biden warns the House that "history is watching"

In remarks Tuesday afternoon, President Biden called on House Republicans to immediately hold a vote on the bill, saying, "failure to support Ukraine in this critical moment will never be forgotten."

"For Republicans in Congress who think they can oppose funding for Ukraine and not be held accountable, history is watching," Biden said in an address at the White House.

Biden also directly referred to recent remarks from Trump, who said during a campaign rally this weekend that he would not defend NATO allies against attacks from Russia if those allies do not meet his definition of paying enough money for defense.

"If we don't pay and we're attacked by Russia, will you protect us?" Trump recalled another country's leader asking while him while he was president. "No, I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want."

Biden called those remarks "dangerous" and "un-American."

"For Trump, principles never matter. Everything is transactional. He doesn't understand that the sacred commitment we've given works for us as well," Biden said.

Biden promised not to walk away from America's allies.

"For as long as I'm president, if Putin attacks a NATO ally, the United States will defend every inch of NATO territory," he said.

Biden closed by asking if Republicans will stand with America or stand with Trump, and called on them to stand for democracy.

Senate forges ahead with military aid amid pressure from Trump

This foreign aid focused bill was released last week after the border agreement failed. The plan started with the support of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and other GOP defense hawks who worry that U.S. allies face serious threats without adequate funding.

But support for that view has been eroding among Republicans under pressure from Trump.

McConnell defended U.S. investments in NATO and other allies in a lengthy speech on the Senate floor following Trump's campaign remarks.

"We haven't equipped the brave people of Ukraine, Israel or Taiwan with lethal capabilities in order to win philanthropic accolades," McConnell said. "We're not urgently strengthening defenses in the Indo-Pacific because it feels good. We don't wield American strength frivolously. We do it because it is in our own interest. We equip our friends to face our shared adversaries so we're less likely to have to spend American lives to defeat them."

But many of McConnell's GOP members still lined up to vehemently oppose the bill. A group led by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., gave lengthy speeches to delay Senate proceedings, despite the clear reality that the bill easily had the votes to pass.

The process coincided with a major national security conference in Munich, where top government officials representing America's major allies were closely following the Senate's process.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eric McDaniel edits the NPR Politics Podcast. He joined the program ahead of its 2019 relaunch as a daily podcast.
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