'Save democracy': US House urged to pass Israel-Ukraine funding bill after Senate victory

Republicans say package is unlikely to pass in House of Representatives

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer arrives at the Capitol building before the legislative body passed a $95 billion security package. AP
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President Joe Biden and senior Senate leaders on Tuesday urged the US House of Representatives to “meet this moment”, as Donald Trump-allied Republicans threatened to again kill a massive foreign aid bill with billions in assistance for Ukraine and Israel.

In an early morning vote, the US Senate passed the $95 billion aid package that contains funding for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan after a chaotic week of Republican infighting.

In an address from the White House, Mr Biden emphasised that “history is watching” and called on House Speaker Mike Johnson to put the bill to a vote “immediately”.

“House Republicans, you've got to decide, are you going to stand up for freedom? Or are you going to side with terror and tyranny?” Mr Biden said.

“You're going to stand with Ukraine, or you're going to stand with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin? Will you stand with America or Trump?”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer had earlier expressed a similar urgency: “These past few months have been a great test for the US Senate … now, it's up to the House. Meet this moment. Do the right thing and save democracy.

“This is a rare moment where history is looking upon the United States and seeing if we will stand up for our values stand up to bullies like us and do the right thing.”

Mr Biden added that Washington “cannot afford to wait any longer” on getting the bill to his desk to sign into law.

“It will provide Israel with what it needs to protect its people against Hamas terrorists. Significantly, this agreement will provide life-saving humanitarian assistance for the Palestinian people, the vast majority of whom have nothing to do with Hamas,” he said.

Despite clearing the Senate hurdle, the legislation is all but certain to be “dead on arrival” in the Republican-controlled House.

The bill includes $60 billion in funding for Ukraine, which Mr Biden and other supporters say is critical for Kyiv's defence.

Mr Johnson has rejected the Senate package for failing to address security at the US southern border, after he thwarted a previous version that included border reforms last week.

“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,” he said in a statement on Monday night.

If the Speaker refuses to bring the legislation to the floor for a vote, an arcane process called a discharge position could circumvent his block. It is a little-used and lengthy process that would require bipartisan support.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Tuesday that failure to pass the spending bill “sends messages not just to allies and partners, but to potential adversaries as well, that the United States can't be counted on”.

Republicans have faced criticism from Mr Biden and other politicians in Washington that they are blocking border reform to boost former president Donald Trump's 2024 election campaign.

Ben Cardin, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, cautioned that “while the passage of this funding package is cause for celebration, we cannot forget the calamitous path that led us to this moment”.

“The political entrenchment and partisan brinkmanship that characterised the debate over this legislation led to significant delays in delivering aid to our allies and a host of missed opportunities,” Mr Cardin said in a statement.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy hailed the passage of the bill.

“American assistance brings just peace in Ukraine closer and restores global stability, resulting in increased security and prosperity for all Americans and all the free world,” Mr Zelenskyy wrote on X.

Also included in the bill is $14 billion for Israel and $4.83 billion for Taiwan and other partners in the Indo-Pacific region.

The package also faced a small amount of opposition from progressive members of the Democratic Party who have called for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley voted against the bill, saying: “I strongly oppose sending more offensive military aid to Israel at a time when they are using American weapons in what President Biden has called an ‘indiscriminate’ campaign of bombing.

“The campaign conducted by the Netanyahu government is at odds with our American values and American law, which requires recipients of American assistance to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid.”

Updated: February 13, 2024, 9:37 PM