Senate advances Ukraine and Israel aid after GOP blocked larger border bill

WASHINGTON — The Senate voted Thursday afternoon to proceed to a stripped-down bill that would provide aid to Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan, one day after Republicans in the chamber rejected a bipartisan border security and foreign aid bill.

The vote of 67-32 means the Senate can begin consideration of the $95 billion package, although the next steps are uncertain and it’s not yet clear it will the votes for final passage in the chamber.

“This is a good first step. This bill is essential for our national security,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the floor after the vote. “Failure to pass this bill would only embolden autocrats like Putin and Xi, who want nothing more than America’s decline. Now that we are on the bill, we hope to reach an amendment with our Republican colleagues on amendments.”

He said the Senate would keep at it “until the job is done.”

While nearly all Democrats favor passage, Senate Republicans are divided on whether to approve the bill or filibuster it. They held a morning meeting to discuss their options and potential demands for amendments to wrap up passage speedily.

“I think if we get on it, we should use every lever we can to get the right amendment votes,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D. “Either way, it’s not going to be quick.”

Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., who voted to proceed with the bill after opposing it on Wednesday, said Republicans discussed trying to add border amendments to the new deal, “but clearly on our side of the aisle there’s a lot of people that feel that the former president’s comments meant that he really didn’t want to see something like that at this time. And that’s held a huge amount of weight on our side.”

Some senators indicated that the chamber could stay over the weekend to finish it. And Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has vowed to prevent the Senate from speeding up the process, which would require unanimous consent from all 100 senators.

“You got to bring it to a conclusion and then we as a conference will have to own the outcome if we choose to halt it,” Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., said. “I think Schumer would be right to keep us here until we dispose of it. These people say we need to cool off or take a few weeks off — I don’t get that.”

The current effort could be the last chance to approve aid to Ukraine in the foreseeable future, a high priority for President Joe Biden that is backed by many lawmakers in Congress but opposed by a large faction of conservatives in both chambers.

If the bill passes the Democratic-led Senate, it would go to the GOP-controlled House, where prospects are also uncertain. Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., did not indicate on Wednesday whether he would allow a floor vote, saying, “We’ll see what the Senate does.”

Senators prefer to wrap up the aid package before a two-week recess is scheduled to begin next week. After that, Congress’s priority will be a government funding deadline in early March.

The Senate blocked the border bill in a 49-50 vote Wednesday afternoon, with just four GOP senators voting for it. Republicans filibustered the agreement they struck, saying it wouldn’t do enough to combat record-high migrant crossings at the southern border after having initially called for border provisions in the bill. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., then sought to move forward with a standalone Israel and Ukraine aid package, without the border provisions.

“We will adjourn until tomorrow and give our Republican colleagues the night to figure themselves out,” Schumer said Wednesday evening before adjourning the Senate. “We will be coming back tomorrow at noon and hopefully that will give the Republicans the time they need. We will have this vote tomorrow.”

In addition to foreign aid, the pared-down package would also include provisions targeting fentanyl trafficking, a Senate Democratic aide said.

The new foreign aid bill was met with skepticism from Senate Republicans during a lunch earlier Wednesday, three sources in the room said.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., predicted earlier Thursday the procedural vote on an aid bill would pass, without clarity on what comes next.

“Then we’re on a midnight train to nowhere,” he said.

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