Senate Republicans Block Procedural Vote for Ukraine Aid Package

Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post
President Biden delivers remarks in the State Dining Room of the White House on Oct. 10.

Senate Republicans on Wednesday blocked a procedural vote to advance a national security bill that includes billions of dollars in Ukraine aid because it includes no changes to border security policy.

Every Senate Republican voted against advancing the resolution. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who caucuses with Democrats, opposed the measure over its inclusion of unconditional aid to Israel. Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) changed his yes vote to no to bring the resolution forward again.

The Ukraine aid issue is a continued point of contention in the current Congress. Facing pressure from House Republicans earlier this year, lawmakers agreed to strip U.S. assistance from a bill to continue funding the government and avert a shutdown.

The Biden administration urged Congress to pass billions in aid to Ukraine, but skepticism by Republicans over the scale of the funding for Ukraine and how it has been allocated has grown, and Republicans are now seeking to tie the aid negotiations to border policy changes – an issue on which Congress has failed to take broad-ranging action for decades.

Schumer said on the Senate floor after the vote that it was “a very sad day.”

“If Ukraine falls, [Russian President Vladimir] Putin will not stop there. He will be emboldened. . . . Western democracy will begin to enter an age of decline if we aren’t willing to defend it,” he continued. “This Republican Party must get serious.”

Senate Republicans are now expected to again introduce a counterproposal that includes what they want in border policy.

Schumer said Democrats were willing to debate a Republican counteroffer, but he had urged his colleagues on the other side of the aisle to vote with Democrats to begin debate on the existing proposal and to bring the counteroffer as an amendment to advance talks. The Republicans’ last proposal, Schumer noted, was “far away from what anyone could accept on our side.”

As Wednesday’s vote began, senators on both sides of the aisle painted a bleak outlook for the stalled border talks and urged Biden to get more involved. Talks, which began several weeks ago, broke down as senators hashed out changes to asylum and parole policies.

“Republicans are playing a dangerous game with the fate of the free world,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a key negotiator on the border security agreement. “But it’s time for Republicans to stop playing politics, ditch their unserious proposals, and come to the table with reasonable expectations.” He added that he’s willing to continue negotiations.

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), another negotiator, said he was “encouraged” by President Biden’s comments Wednesday saying he’d be willing to accept immigration policy changes, but that he did not believe a deal would be struck before the holidays.

“It’s going to take [Biden’s] leadership or we’re stuck,” Graham said.

Earlier Wednesday, Biden made an urgent plea to congressional lawmakers to pass the measure, which includes billions of dollars in Ukraine aid, warning that a failure to do so would hand Putin a victory and embolden him to invade European countries beyond Ukraine.

“This cannot wait,” Biden said in remarks at the White House. “It’s stunning that we’ve gotten to this point in the first place . . . Republicans in Congress that are willing to give Putin the greatest gift he could hope for and abandon our global leadership not just in Ukraine, but beyond it.”

Biden said he supports Democrats making more concessions on border security to pass the additional funding for Ukraine, but that Republican proposals have been extreme and allowed for no compromises.

“I support real solutions at the border,” Biden said. “We all know it’s broken, and I’m willing to do significantly more.”

But, he added: “This has to be a negotiation. Republicans think they can get everything they want without any bipartisan compromise. That’s not the answer. That’s not the answer. Now, they’re willing to literally kneecap Ukraine on the battlefield and damage our national security in the process.”

The White House has warned that it will run out of funding for Ukraine by the end of the year, stressing that it does not have money elsewhere that it can allocate to the war without congressional approval.

The president’s remarks came shortly after Biden met virtually with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and leaders of the Group of Seven industrialized democracies. Biden said European leaders – who also face pressure from their citizens as the war contributes to rising food and energy costs – were prepared to maintain support for Ukraine, though he suggested that might change if the United States bows out.

The president’s comments reflect increasing concern within the White House that Congress will not pass another supplemental aid package to ensure Ukraine can continue fighting to repel Russia’s invasion, a war that has lasted nearly two years. Throughout the conflict, the White House has managed to secure billions of additional dollars from Congress and has not confronted the crisis it says it is facing now in maintaining U.S. support for Ukraine.

The Pentagon has aligned with the Biden administration messaging that ties security assistance to Ukraine with a boost to domestic production and jobs – a potent talking point heading into an election year and an incentive for GOP lawmakers to drop their opposition to the bill. Much of the equipment provided to Kyiv, including Bradley fighting vehicles and Abrams tanks, are older systems that are replaced by building new equipment.

The United States has already invested about $27 billion in more than 35 states, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in prepared remarks at the Ukraine Defense Industrial Base Conference in Washington on Wednesday. The supplemental would add another $50 billion, Austin said.

The cupboards will otherwise go empty soon, the Defense Department has said. Pentagon acquisitions chief William LaPlante said there is less than $1 billion left in a fund designated to build replacement weapons and equipment, with officials identifying how to best spend the remaining money. “Consider it gone,” he told reporters at the Reagan Defense Forum in California last week.

While there was broad bipartisan support for Ukraine after Russia invaded in February 2022 – as well as widespread public displays of support for Ukraine – interest in the war among the American public has waned considerably, especially as it has ground to a stalemate with no clear end.

An Economist-YouGov poll released late last month found that 22 percent of Americans favored increasing military aid to Ukraine, 28 percent favored decreasing it and 27 percent wanted to maintain the same amount.

Congressional Republicans – particularly those in the House of Representatives – have grown increasingly opposed to Ukraine aid throughout the war, making it more difficult for the White House to get its supplemental requests passed. There was little resistance to aid packages for Ukraine in 2022, but the issue has become considerably more polarized the longer the war has continued.

Republicans also continue to believe that they have the upper hand in the negotiations over border policy because Biden is adamant that Ukraine cannot be abandoned.

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), the chief Republican negotiator in the border talks, who has been communicating with White House staff, said that the president’s remarks acknowledging that he’s open to border policy changes is a shift in tone in the right direction.

“We’re going to continue to work together to be able to figure out how to get this done. It’s important,” Lankford said.

Speaking to reporters ahead of the vote, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said that it’s time for Democrats to accept the “reality” that Republicans in the House won’t support Ukraine aid unless they can secure changes to border policy.

“I’m very much in favor of getting support for Ukraine and support for Israel,” Romney said. “I’m one of those that’s very much in favor of that. But I also recognize the real politics, which is the Republican House of Representatives will not get funding for Ukraine and Israel unless the border is secure.”

“That’s the reality,” he added. “The Democrats would like something else to be the reality.”

The White House asked Congress for about $61 billion for Ukraine – part of a broader national security bill that also includes funding for Israel, humanitarian aid for Gaza and money for the U.S.-Mexico border – to avoid having to make another request before the presidential election, when the politics of passing more foreign aid will become even more difficult. The hope among Biden officials was that the $61 billion would get Ukraine through the next year.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said tough border measures must be included in the military aid bill because uncontrolled migration is a critical national security issue.

“Border security is national security,” McConnell said on X. “Supplemental national security legislation must include meaningful policy changes to get the Biden administration’s border crisis under control. Not enough Senate Democrats recognize this fundamental and urgent reality.”

On Monday, the White House issued an urgent warning to Congress about Ukraine’s need for additional aid to help it resist Russia’s invasion, with Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young bluntly writing in a letter to congressional leaders that the United States is “out of money to support Ukraine in this fight.”

In the letter, Young wrote that “without congressional action, by the end of the year we will run out of resources to procure more weapons and equipment for Ukraine and to provide equipment from U.S. military stocks.”

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Alex Horton contributed to this report.