The bill provides for a combined $20.1 billion in military aid that is expected to allow for the transfer of advanced weapons systems, such as Patriot anti-aircraft missiles and long-range artillery. Also included in the bill is more than $8 billion in general economic support for Ukraine, nearly $5 billion in global food aid to address potential food shortages due to the collapse of Ukraine’s agricultural economy and more than $1 billion in combined aid for refugees.
Support for the bill is strongly bipartisan — senators voted 88 to 11 on Tuesday in a test vote to move the bill forward — but party leaders were forced to maneuver procedural hurdles for a week due to Senator Rand Paul (R- Ky.), who objected to the bill on fiscal and geopolitical grounds.
House approves nearly $40 billion in aid to Ukraine as it fights Russian aggression
His delaying tactics vexed leaders of both parties, who last week had attempted to speed up the bill through a process that required the consent of all 100 senators.
“This should have been over by now, but it is abhorrent that a member from the other side…chose to make a show and impede Ukraine’s funding knowing full well that he couldn’t really stop its passage” , majority leader Charles E. Schumer (DN.Y.) said Wednesday. “If Senator Paul delays funding Ukraine for purely political reasons, it will only strengthen Putin’s hand.”
Paul defended his objection on Tuesday, calling U.S. support for Ukraine “no doubt a noble cause — one for which I have great sympathy and support — but one that the Constitution does not approve or approve.”
“Yes, our national security is threatened — not by Russia’s war against Ukraine, but by Congress’s war against American taxpayers,” he said. “The vast majority of Americans sympathize with Ukraine and want them to fend off the Russian invaders. But if Congress was fair, they would either get the money from elsewhere in the budget or ask Americans to pay higher taxes or, heaven forbid, lend the money to Ukraine instead of giving it to Ukraine. But Congress will do what Congress does best: spend other people’s money.”
Paul offered to lift his grip if Senate leaders approved an amendment that would put an existing federal watchdog, the Pentagon’s Special Inspector General for Reconstruction of Afghanistan, overseeing the new aid. But Democrats opposed that request, arguing that any changes to the bill would delay it further by requiring the House to re-approve it. Some also opposed a reassignment of the current Inspector General of Afghanistan to Ukraine.
Paul’s views sparked backlash from within his own party, including from Mitch McConnell, fellow Republican Senate Senate leader, who argued on Tuesday that “America’s decision to support Ukraine is not a frivolous act of charity.”
“It serves our own national security and strategic interests,” he said, “that international borders continue to mean something. It serves our own security and interest to impose enormous costs on Putin’s long-running campaign of violent imperialism. And it serves directly and strongly our national interest to deter potential future wars of aggression before they begin.”
McConnell and three other Republicans made an unannounced visit to Kiev last weekend, where they met Zelensky. In comments clearly aimed at opponents in his own party, McConnell said on Thursday: “Anyone concerned about the cost of supporting a Ukrainian victory should consider the much higher cost if Ukraine loses.”
In addition to Paul, ten other Republicans this week opposed the aid package in procedural votes, most citing fiscal objections, but none opposed speeding the bill to a final vote.
The package is a total of $7 billion more than the $33 billion Biden originally requested. It went up in the House last week after Biden said earlier this month that he wanted aid to Ukraine moved to Capitol Hill separately from another emergency spending request — for at least $10 billion in covid aid — that got caught up in party politics.
“This aid has been critical to Ukraine’s success on the battlefield,” Biden said in a May 9 statement. “We cannot allow our aid shipments to stop while we await further action from Congress.”
The House voted last week to advance the aid package by a vote of 368 to 57, with all House Democrats and 149 Republicans voting in favor. Fifty-seven House Republicans opposed the bill.
Thursday’s vote came on the heels of the Senate confirmation Wednesday of career diplomat Bridget A. Brink to serve as US ambassador to Ukraine — making Brink the first full-fledged ambassador to Kiev since May 2019, when then-President Donald Trump became ambassador. Marie Yovanovitch recalled .
Formerly Ambassador to Slovakia, Brink was confirmed by a vote less than a month after Biden first nominated her for the Ukrainian post and less than two weeks after Brink had her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — a rapid pace due to the Russian invasion and the growing US commitment to aid.
Brink told the committee on May 10 that her top priority was to coordinate the flow of military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine during the ongoing Russian invasion.
Schumer said on Wednesday that Brink would be an “outstanding” envoy and help Ukraine defeat Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion.
“Not having an ambassador really hinders our relationship in a way that no one would want to see,” he said, adding that Brink would serve as a “critical link as the United States continues to help the Ukrainian people withstand Russia’s brutal and vicious attacks.” .” †
While key lawmakers said it was too early to predict what further resources Congress might need to engage with the conflict in Ukraine, they acknowledged that more would almost certainly be needed.
But the next major Ukraine-related issue to hit Capitol Hill this year may not be funding, but Finland and Sweden’s entry into NATO — a move sparked by the Russian invasion, which prompted a reassessment among Finns. and Sweden who have long been wary of joining the transatlantic alliance for fear of provoking Russia, with whom the two nations share a border.
Senators from both sides predicted this week that the Senate would act quickly to ratify the Scandinavian countries’ applications, making them the first new NATO members since Montenegro was admitted in 2017. But it remained unclear whether the vote would be unanimous.
Paul, who voted against Montenegro’s admission with Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) in 2017, said this week he was still investigating the matter. And Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who had voiced geopolitical objections to NATO expansion before the invasion of Ukraine, said on Wednesday he was “not an automatic yes” to Finland and Sweden’s admission.