WASHINGTON ― The Senate on Tuesday passed legislation providing U.S. aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan after days of fierce intra-party Republican debate over pushing back against Russian President Vladimir Putin and maintaining America’s standing around the world.
The vote was 70-29, with 22 Republicans bucking former President Donald Trump in favor of the bill.
The dispute pitted the old guard of the Republican Party against Trump-era conservatives and populists, whose growing influence was able to slow but ultimately not stop the bill in the upper chamber. Its passage in the House is in doubt, however, after House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) poured cold water on it on Monday.
In a speech Monday evening ahead of the vote, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), the GOP’s 2012 presidential nominee, cast the issue in stark terms, calling it “the most important vote we will ever take as United States senators.” He argued that allowing Putin to win in Ukraine would have far-reaching consequences in Europe and around the globe.
“If we fail to help Ukraine, Putin will invade a NATO nation,” Romney warned. “He may delay his next invasion until he rebuilds his decimated military. But let’s be clear-eyed: Ukraine is not the end; it is a step.”
Taking aim at the bill’s opponents, Romney added: “I know that the shock jocks and online instigators have effectively riled up many in the far reaches of my party. But if your position is being cheered by Vladimir Putin, it’s time to reconsider your position.”
Pro-Trump conservatives lined up against the bill, however, forcing a rare weekend session of the Senate and an early Tuesday vote after hours of speeches by critical senators. They argued that the $95 billion foreign assistance package cost too much and did nothing to secure U.S. borders, even though they voted to block bipartisan legislation last week that included tougher border enforcement measures.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) speaks to reporters Sunday as the Senate works through the weekend on a $95.3 billion foreign aid bill that includes support for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. The fate of the aid package in the House is in doubt.
“Say no to endless wars. Say no to broken borders. Say no to funding corruption and death half a world away,” Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) added: “I care about the bankrupting of America. I care about the looting of our treasury. Sending money to Ukraine makes our national security more endangered.”
Even Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of Congress’ biggest defense hawks and a supporter of Ukraine aid, opposed the bill, which he said needed to meaningfully address the wave of migrants on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Graham and his staff were involved in helping write parts of the bipartisan border legislation that won the endorsement of the U.S. Border Patrol union. But after Trump urged senators to reject the legislation, leery of giving Democrats a win as he campaigns to reclaim the presidency, Graham said he couldn’t support it.
“I hope the House will take another meaningful look at border security so that it can pass the Senate,” Graham said in a statement.
Other pro-Trump Republicans suggested entering some sort of peace talks with Russia, which would likely require Ukraine to cede portions or all of its territory to Putin. Over the weekend, as Russian missiles rained down on Ukrainian cities, Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) claimed that “Russia is open to a peace agreement, while it is DC warmongers who want to prolong the war.”
Johnson’s statement on Monday did not explicitly rule out allowing the House to vote on a foreign aid bill passed by the Senate. He said the House will “work its own will” on these issues, and criticized senators for failing to pass the border policy changes.
The latest twist in Johnson’s position elicited bewilderment from Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who helped negotiate the Senate border bill.
Murphy on Monday posted an all-lowercase tweet on X, the former Twitter, pointing out that Johnson “said he wouldn’t pass ukraine funding without a border deal and we got a deal and then he killed the deal because he said we didn’t need a deal and now he says he won’t pass our ukraine funding bill bc it doesn’t include a border deal.”
He added: “honestly wtf.”
There have been some discussions by lawmakers about the possibility of forcing a House vote on the bill via a rarely used procedure known as a discharge petition. But that would likely produce a conservative backlash and put Johnson’s position as speaker at risk. He’s already in a tenuous position with a faction of far-right Republicans opposed to any aid to Ukraine, as well as pressing issues like securing funding to keep the government open next month.
“If it were to get to the floor, it would pass — let’s just be frank about that,” said Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), an opponent of the bill.
But President Joe Biden urged the House to act immediately in a statement issued by the White House on Tuesday.
“The costs of inaction are rising every day, especially in Ukraine,” Biden said. “Already, we are seeing reports of Ukrainian troops running out of ammunition on the front lines as Russian forces continue to attack and Putin continues to dream of subjugating the Ukrainian people.”
“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,” he continued. “Our allies and adversaries alike will take note. It is time for the House to take action and send this bipartisan legislation to my desk immediately so that I can sign it into law.”