Senate Passes $95 Billion Ukraine, Israel Aid Package amid GOP Divide

Kent Nishimura for The Washington Post
House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) holds a news conference on Capitol Hill last week.

The Senate passed a $95 billion national security package to aid Israel, Ukraine and other U.S. allies early Tuesday after a months-long debate that has deeply divided congressional Republicans.

The bill passed 70-29, after 22 Republicans joined Democrats in approving the aid.

But House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) preemptively rejected the legislation on Monday night, saying in a statement that the package’s failure to address U.S. border security makes it a nonstarter in the House.

“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,” Johnson said in a statement. “America deserves better than the Senate’s status quo.”

Johnson and other House leaders helped torpedo an earlier version of the legislation, which included sweeping border security measures.

The aid package has been long awaited by the White House, which requested the funds in October, shortly after Israel came under attack by Hamas. Republicans, including Johnson, demanded that a border security piece be attached to it in exchange for their votes. But they abandoned the proposal amid opposition from former president Donald Trump, who has made the border crisis a core campaign issue and has complained that the policy changes would help President Biden and the Democrats.

“These past few months have been a great test for the U.S. Senate to see if we could escape the centrifugal pull of partisanship and summon the will to defend Western democracy when it mattered most,” Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said after the bill passed in the Senate. “Today, the Senate has resoundingly passed the test.”

Schumer told The Washington Post that the “onus” is now on Johnson to put the bill on the floor, where he predicted it would get a “robust” bipartisan vote.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a statement after the vote: “History settles every account. And today, on the value of American leadership and strength, history will record that the Senate did not blink.”

Biden also urged the House to pass the bill. “If we do not stand against tyrants who seek to conquer or carve up their neighbors’ territory, the consequences for America’s national security will be significant,” the president said in a statement.

Ukraine funding has become unpopular among GOP base voters, and Trump said at a recent rally that he would encourage Russia to do “whatever the hell they want” to NATO nations that he views are not spending enough money on defense. (NATO nations aim to spend at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense, a standard that 11 out of the 31 countries met in 2023.) Trump also explicitly opposed the foreign aid package, saying in a recent social media post that he believes aid should be given as a loan.

There are efforts underway to go around Johnson and pass the bill through a Democratic-led discharge petition. Democrats need to gather at least four signatures from Republicans supportive of Ukraine funding to be able to introduce the petition, which probably wouldn’t happen until the end of the month given the congressional calendar.

Its path would still be tricky in the House, given that some Democrats have objected to the Israeli government’s handling of the war in Gaza, where most homes have been destroyed or damaged, more than 12,300 Palestinian children have been killed, and a quarter of the population is starving, according to the United Nations. Enough Republicans would need to support the bill to make up for those Democrats who would not vote for the bill over the aid to Israel.

Bringing the legislation to the floor through a discharge petition – which requires 218 members to support it – would avoid Johnson having his fingerprints on the proposal amid calls by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and others to remove him as speaker if he puts a Ukraine funding bill on the House floor for a vote.

In addition to the $60 billion for Ukraine and $14 billion for Israel, the national security legislation also includes more than $9 billion in humanitarian assistance to Gaza, Ukraine and other nations; spends nearly $5 billion on Indo-Pacific allies, including Taiwan; and prohibits any of the bill’s humanitarian funds from going to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency that operates in Gaza and the West Bank, following allegations that some of its employees were involved in the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel.

Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) were the only members of the Democratic caucus to vote against the legislation, citing the staggering civilian death toll and humanitarian crisis unfolding in Gaza.

The Pentagon has said Ukraine urgently needs this aid and risks running out of ammunition as it continues to fend off a Russian invasion that began in 2022.

“For us in Ukraine, continued US assistance helps to save human lives from Russian terror,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a social media post thanking the Senate for passing the aid. “It means that life will continue in our cities and will triumph over war.”

Trump’s presence has loomed over the aid package in Congress, as some Republicans echoed his rhetoric opposing sending Ukraine aid and then later tanked the border deal they demanded, after Trump said he didn’t like it.

GOP senators have been fighting with each other for weeks over the package, with some critics arguing that McConnell led them into a political box in which Democrats have claimed the edge on border security after the GOP defected from the border deal that the generally pro-Republican Border Patrol union endorsed.

“Why did Republicans stab their voters in their back?” Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) asked Monday on the Senate floor, referring to the decision to vote for the package without securing the southern border. (Vance, along with almost every Republican, voted against the border security component last week.)

A vocal faction of McConnell critics has grown louder over the past several days, with a handful even calling for his ouster, as Senate Republicans gathered in meeting after meeting arguing about the uncomfortable political situation in which they find themselves. “Clearly there is more objection to foreign involvement in the Senate now than there used to be,” McConnell told The Post in an interview last week. But he said he was “willing to take the heat” to force the politically divisive issue.

Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) leaves a luncheon before a vote last week.

Democrats have raised alarms about the lack of unity on the Republican side to aid U.S. allies, as well as about Trump’s rhetoric.

Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), chairman of the Intelligence Committee, called Trump’s comments “frankly frightening” and said they would encourage Russian President Vladimir Putin as he wages war on Ukraine. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said Trump was “signaling” to Putin that he would “hand” him Ukraine if he becomes president.

But on the final vote, several Republicans who had been opposing the bill joined their 17 colleagues who had been voting for the measure earlier.