WASHINGTON: US senators cleared a first hurdle Thursday to a sweeping foreign aid package – including a $60 billion lifeline for Ukraine – although opposition from right-wing allies of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump means final passage remains far from guaranteed.
The procedural vote to at least consider the bill nevertheless marked a stunning about-face by Senate Republicans. Until now they had refused to renew funding for Ukraine’s fight against Russian invasion if Democrats didn’t also agree to stringent new curbs on a record surge of undocumented migrants across the US-Mexican border.
The $95 billion package set to be debated also includes funding for Israel’s fight against Hamas militants and for key strategic ally Taiwan. The lion’s share, however, would help pro-Western Ukraine restock depleted ammunition supplies, weapons and other crucial needs as it enters a third year of war.
The aid had looked dead in the water after Republicans rejected an earlier version on Wednesday that also featured many of the Mexico border security measures they had spent months championing.
US Senate may pass aid for Ukraine, Israel but not border security
Under pressure from Trump, who is running for a second term and wants to exploit President Joe Biden’s perceived weakness on immigration, Republicans instead appeared to decide that they would prefer stopping any border reforms until after November’s election.
But Republican senators relented in a dramatic vote Thursday after the Democrats, who have a slim majority in the upper chamber, decoupled the aid from the border issue entirely.
The procedural vote, which could open the way for a full vote in the coming days, capped an extraordinary spate of chaos in a deeply polarized Congress.
The two parties are able to agree on little ahead of the elections. However, much of the dysfunction has been blamed directly on Trump, who looks almost certain to be the Republican standard-bearer in November despite losing the presidency to Biden in 2020 and being embroiled in criminal charges.
Senate Republicans originally demanded border security as a condition for supporting pro-Western Ukraine as it battles the invasion launched by President Vladimir Putin in February 2022.
The US ‘can and will’ deliver more Ukraine aid: top advisor