US House approves $86bn in aid for Ukraine and Israel

'Thank you America,' Ukrainian president says as legislators also approve Taiwan aid and divest-or-ban bill for TikTok

Supporters of Ukraine wave US and Ukrainian flags outside the US Capitol after the vote. EPA
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The US House of Representatives on Saturday approved a foreign aid package that includes $61 billion in funding for the Ukrainian military as it enters a perilous phase in its defence against Russia's invasion.

Legislators also approved $25 billion for Israel and an aid package for Taiwan, as well as a bill that could lead to TikTok being banned in the US.

President Joe Biden, who initially asked for the Ukraine funding in October, welcomed the aid package approval, which came after months of Republican stalling following pressure from former president Donald Trump.

“Members of both parties in the House voted to advance our national security interests and send a clear message about the power of American leadership on the world stage,” Mr Biden said.

“At this critical inflection point, they came together to answer history’s call, passing urgently needed national security legislation that I have fought for months to secure.”

The aid package must now be finalised and approved by the US Senate, which already has voted to support nearly identical measures, before Mr Biden signs it in to law, probably within days.

The Pentagon has plans in place to fast track munitions to Ukraine, including from stockpiles in Europe.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the funding “will keep the war from expanding, save thousands and thousands of lives, and help both of our nations to become stronger”.

“Thank you, America!” he wrote on X.

Ukraine has been forced to ration its bombs and ammunition as the House dithered over the additional funding, and Russia has made steady advances into Ukrainian territory in recent weeks.

“We're already seeing things on the battlefield begin to shift a bit … in Russia's favour. We're seeing them make incremental gains, we're seeing the Ukrainians be challenged in terms of holding the line,” US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said this week.

Gregory Meeks, the senior Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the additional funds would allow Ukraine to repel Russian advances, “protect its democratic path, and prove to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin that the West remains united against his territorial ambitions”.

The vote on Ukraine funding was 311-112. Notably, 112 Republicans opposed the legislation, with 101 in support.

The Israel aid bill passed on a 366 to 58 vote, with 37 Democrats and 21 Republicans in opposition.

That bill includes $4 billion for Israel’s missile defences in the wake of last weekend’s drone and missile attacks by Iran. It provides $9 billion in global humanitarian aid including for use in Gaza at the Democrats’ insistence.

“We did our work here, and I think history will judge it well,” said Speaker Mike Johnson, who risked his job by bringing the aid package to a vote over objections from far-right members of his party and Mr Trump.

Politicians also approved about $8 billion for helping US allies in the Indo-Pacific region and countering China.

More than $3.3 billion would go towards submarine infrastructure and development, with an additional $1.9 billion to replenish US weapons provided to Taiwan and other regional allies.

Weapons wanted by Ukraine – in pictures

TikTok ban?

The House also passed legislation that would ban TikTok in the US if the social media platform's China-based owner ByteDance does not sell its stake within a year.

The measure, passed by a 360-58 vote, now goes to the Senate after negotiations that lengthened the timetable for the company to sell to nine months, with a possible additional three months if a sale is in progress.

US politicians have typically taken a hands-off approach to regulating Big Tech, so the focus on TikTok, which has about 170 million users in the US, is unusual.

Members of both parties, along with intelligence officials, worry that Chinese authorities could force ByteDance to hand over American user data or direct the company to suppress or grow TikTok content favourable to its interests.

TikTok has denied assertions that it could be used as a tool of the Chinese government and has said it has not shared US user data with Chinese authorities.

“We will not stop fighting and advocating for you,” TikTok chief executive Shou Zi Chew said in a video that was posted on the platform last month and directed towards the app’s users.

“We will continue to do all we can, including exercising our legal rights, to protect this amazing platform that we have built with you.”

Many TikTok users, including content creators whose income is generated on the app, have been pushing hard against the proposed ban, but lawmakers appear determined to proceed.

Updated: April 21, 2024, 6:16 AM