US Senate approves $95bn foreign-aid package after months of delay

A far-right faction of the Republican Party has taken an increasingly anti-Ukraine stance

The American and Ukrainian flags wave outside the Capitol in Washington. AP
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The US Senate on Tuesday passed $95 billion in foreign aid, ending months of chaos that threatened Ukraine's chances of staving off a Russian victory and blocked President Joe Biden's ambitions of sending more money to Israel for the war in Gaza.

The aid package easily passed with broad bipartisan support in a 79-18 vote.

“Tonight we tell our allies, we stand with you,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said. “We tell our adversaries, don't mess with us. We tell the world, the United States will do everything to safeguard democracy and our way of life.”

The funding measures include $60 billion for Ukraine, $26 billion for Israel and $8 billion for Taiwan and Indo-Pacific security.

A fourth bill contains, among other Republican-led foreign policy provisions, a measure that would ban of TikTok in the US if its Chinese parent company does not sell it.

“This is an extremely important day in the history of our country and of the free world,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said.

Senate foreign relations committee chairman Ben Cardin called the vote “a major victory for democracy and international unity”, but celebration was tempered by the chaotic pathway to passage.

The package is similar to the $95 billion foreign aid bill already passed by the Senate in February, which Republican Speaker of the House Mike Johnson held up for months amid threats from his own party.

But Iran's recent strike on Israel broke the impasse, forcing the Republican Speaker to act on the funding requests.

“This critical support, however, arrived tragically late due to a relentless partisan campaign of obstructionism and misinformation, which had profound consequences for those on the front lines of conflict and in desperate need of humanitarian aid,” Mr Cardin told The National in a statement.

A far-right faction of the Republican Party affiliated with presidential front-runner Donald Trump has taken an increasingly anti-Ukraine stance.

Why is the US struggling to pass Israel funding during the war in Gaza?

Why is the US struggling to pass Israel funding during the war in Gaza?

Mr Trump has advocated Moscow's invasion of US Nato allies.

The movement has invoked a civil war of sorts within the conservative opposition party, between the more moderate old guard and a new wave of alt-right personalities.

Republican Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell did not mince words on Ukraine and American interests on the European continent.

“There's no question the delay was harmful,” he told reporters at a Tuesday media conference.

Pentagon press secretary Maj Gen Pat Ryder, meanwhile, said the Ukrainian military would quickly start to receive US assistance, once Mr Biden signs the funding legislation into law.

“In general terms, I would say that we would expect to be able to deliver aid within days,” Maj Gen Ryder told reporters, noting that the security assistance package would be based on Ukraine’s most urgent needs.

“It’s a good assumption to expect that it’ll include air defence capabilities, as well as artillery ammunition.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy celebrated news of the coming relief for Kyiv at the weekend, after the funds cleared that critical hurdle in the House of Representatives.

“The people of Ukraine are counting on this decision,” he tweeted as bipartisan members of Congress celebrated with him in Kyiv.

The swift passage did not come without critics from right and left in the Senate.

In a sweeping floor speech, progressive Senator Bernie Sanders, who voted against the measure, denounced the body's decision to lump together the four House bills into one vote and deny the option for amendments.

Quoting a provision on Washington foreign aid policy, Mr Sanders asserted on the Senate floor that: “It is illegal to continue current military aid to Israel, let alone send another $9 billion with no strings attached.”

“What we can say about the House is they at least gave their members the opportunity to vote yes or no on funding for Ukraine and on aid to Israel … that is more than can be said for the US Senate right now.”

Democrat Dick Durbin meanwhile cautioned: “My greatest fear is that [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and his right-wing coalition, once they receive these American funds, will act irresponsibly.”

Mr Sanders introduced a now-failed amendment to the bill that would have blocked “unfettered military aid for Netanyahu’s war on the Palestinian people” and restored funding for the UN Palestinian refugee agency, the UNRWA, “so that children in Gaza don’t starve”.

Meanwhile, Republicans in the House have intensified threats to remove Mr Johnson as Speaker, as he allowed the legislation to reach the floor.

And the handful of Trump-aligned Republicans in the Senate chamber, like first-term Ohio Senator JD Vance, are confident that while they lost this battle on Ukraine, they are winning the larger war within the party.

“Europe needs to step up and the United States needs to focus on Asia. Notwithstanding some lingering cold warriors, we’re winning the debate because reality is on our side,” Mr Vance told US outlet The Hill.

Updated: April 24, 2024, 4:19 AM