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US Senate passes $95 billion Ukraine aid bill

The Democratic-led US Senate on Tuesday passed a long-sought $95.34 billion military aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, although it faced an uncertain path ahead in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

After months of negotiations and political infighting, the lawmakers approved the measure in a 70-29 vote that comfortably exceeded the chamber’s 60-vote threshold for passage and sent the legislation on to the House. Twenty-two Republicans joined most Democrats to support the bill.

“It’s certainly been years, perhaps decades, since the Senate has passed a bill that so greatly impacts not just our national security, not just the security of our allies, but the security of Western democracy,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in the Senate shortly after the predawn vote.

Mr Schumer told a news conference later on Tuesday he was confident the bill would pass the House with support from both parties if Republican Speaker Mike Johnson would allow a vote.

“I call on Speaker Johnson to rise to the occasion, to do the right thing: Bring this bill to the floor quickly,” Mr Schumer said.

Speaker Johnson issued a statement before the Senate vote faulting it for lacking conservative provisions to stem a record flow of migrants across the US-Mexico border, suggesting he would not schedule a vote any time soon.

His refusal could force Democrats to attempt a rare maneuver known as a “discharge petition,” which allows members to force a House vote if they can obtain the signatures of 218 representatives, more than half the House’s members. The last successful discharge petition was filed in 2015.

Chuck Schumer said the bill ‘greatly impacts … the security of western democracy’

Ukraine struggles

Ukraine leadership sees the funding as crucial as it continues to repel Russian attacks and keep its battered economy going as the war nears its third year.

US President Joe Biden has been pushing Congress to pass more aid for Ukraine for months, but has faced opposition from Republican hardliners, particularly in the House.

Mr Biden issued a statement urging the House to move swiftly. “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,” Mr Biden said. “Our allies and adversaries alike will take note.”

The House has not passed major assistance for Ukraine since Republicans took control of the chamber in January 2023.

The Senate vote occurred before sunrise, after hardline Republican opponents of Ukraine aid held a marathon of speeches from Monday afternoon into the early hours on Tuesday.

The package also includes funds for Israel, humanitarian aid for Palestinians in Gaza and funds to help Taiwan and other US partners in the Indo-Pacific stand up against China.

Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives Mike Johnson

Ukrainian officials have warned of weapons shortages at a time when Russia is pressing ahead with renewed attacks.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky quickly hailed 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 Zelensky said on the social platform X.

Both houses of Congress must approve the legislation before President Biden can sign it into law.

Rocky road ahead

Senate Republicans last week blocked a bill that would have coupled the security aid with the most sweeping changes to border policy in decades, after Donald Trump, the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, criticised it.

Backers of the Ukraine aid package have been warily watching Mr Trump’s reaction. So far, the former president has criticised it on social media, saying it should take the form of a loan, and also worried US allies by suggesting he could encourage aggression against some NATO members.

“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,” Speaker Johnson said in his statement.

“America deserves better than the Senate’s status quo,” he said. Mr Johnson has suggested in the past that the House could split the legislation into separate bills and twice introduced bills providing aid only to Israel, neither of which succeeded.

No. 2 Senate Republican John Thune said it was not clear what Mr Johnson would do.

“The House, I assume, is going to move on something. Obviously, they’re going to address Israel,” Mr Thune said.

Hardline Republicans predicted the Senate legislation would be dead on arrival in the House.

“The bill before us today … will never pass in the House, will never become law,” Republican Senator Rick Scott of Florida said in an early morning floor speech.

The legislation includes $60 billion for Ukraine, $14 billion for Israel in its war against Hamas and $4.83 billion to support partners in the Indo-Pacific, including Taiwan, and deter aggression by China.

It would also provide $9.15 billion in humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza and the West Bank, Ukraine and other conflict zones around the globe.

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