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Ukraine and Israel aid bill edges forward in US Senate

Senators approved advancing to a vote, a day after rejecting a bill combining the foreign aid with immigration reform

Mitch McConnell
Republican Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, this Thursday in Washington.MICHAEL REYNOLDS (EFE)
Macarena Vidal Liy

The hope that the United States will eventually renew its aid to Ukraine is still alive. On Thursday, the U.S. Senate approved to vote on $95 billion in aid to Kyiv, Israel and Taiwan, a day after knocking down a bill that combined those funds with immigration reform.

The proposal needed the support of at least 60 of the 100 seats in the Senate in order to be debated on the floor and to decide on its approval or not. It received the support of 67 senators and 32 voted against it.

The Senate must now debate the bill and vote on it. Although the final result is unknown, the support obtained in this preliminary vote indicates that it has a real chance of passing. If so, it will move to the House of Representatives, which in turn will have to decide whether to approve it or not. Its future there is even more uncertain: it is unclear whether the Speaker of the House, Republican Mike Johnson, will agree to submit it to the floor.

Nevertheless, Thursday’s vote represents a 180-degree turnaround from the situation at the beginning of the week, in which funding for Ukraine seemed doomed to remain forever in legislative limbo.

President Joe Biden submitted to Congress last October a request for additional funds to assist various allies: Ukraine, with an allocation of 61 billion dollars; Israel, 14 billion dollars; and Taiwan, around 4 billion to strengthen its defenses against harassment from China. That measure also contained funds to hire more Border Patrol personnel and to process the cases of immigrants entering irregularly from Mexico.

But the Republican opposition had been hardening its stance over the course of the last year regarding aid to Ukraine, considering that the United States, which has already contributed more than 75 billion dollars in military assistance, has already given enough, and that it is not sufficiently clear where this money is going to end up. Several legislators from the party argued that before saying yes to these funds, it was necessary to approve an immigration reform that would tighten border control, at a time when irregular crossings have broken records.

Trump, against

A group of senators from both parties opened negotiations to draft a bill combining both things. The talks, on the verge of breaking down on several occasions, dragged on for four months. Finally, last Sunday, white smoke rose: there was an agreement, and the text, which even Republican minority leader, Mitch McConnell, had worked on, was released. The support of the most influential Republican in the Senate represented a guarantee of sufficient votes. Or so it seemed. Days earlier, former president Donald Trump, the party’s likely candidate in the November elections, had declared himself against what he called a “terrible” bill.

On that same day, a meeting of the Republican senators made it clear that the vast majority of its 49 members were aligned with Trump, who wants to make immigration the key issue of his campaign. Suddenly, the border measures that these lawmakers had called for and that were contained in the bill were not, in their view, stringent enough. There were not enough votes to push the bill through, despite the Democrats’ protests. Biden himself launched a last-minute appeal for a vote on Tuesday, calling on Republicans to “show guts” in the face of the former president. On Wednesday, the bill was definitively defeated, failing to reach the 60 votes needed to reach the floor. Only four Republican legislators joined the Democrats in voting in favor.

Following the debacle, Democratic Majority Leader Charles Schumer announced a plan B to rescue aid to Ukraine, which Washington considers essential to contain Russia and a matter of national security. The international assistance package would be presented alone, without immigration measures. Exactly what Biden had called for four months earlier.

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