WASHINGTON ― The Senate on Thursday cleared a key procedural vote on a bill providing billions of dollars in military aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, voting to open debate on legislation that has been stalled by Republicans for months.
The breakthrough came after lawmakers decoupled the $95 billion foreign assistance portion of the bill from tougher border enforcement measures that Republicans demanded last year but then quickly abandoned after a backlash on the right, including from former President Donald Trump.
After much hemming and hawing this week, and multiple rounds of discussions that seemed to go nowhere, 17 Republicans voted with every Democrat to break a filibuster and advance the measure, over the objections of conservatives who demanded that stronger border enforcement changes be added back into the bill.
“The Republicans wanted something and then decided that they didn’t want that thing,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) told HuffPost after the vote Thursday. “Now some of them want it again, and I think the adults are just moving on.”
Passage of the bill is not yet assured, however. Senators must take several more procedural votes before a final vote, a process that could stretch into next week. And then there’s still the matter of the House, where many Republicans are firmly opposed to more U.S. support for Ukraine in its struggle for survival against Russian aggression.
House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) suggested on Wednesday, before the Senate voted, that he was open to letting the House vote on the foreign aid bill. He’d previously said that the bill combining foreign aid and border security was “dead on arrival” in the House.
“We’ll see what the Senate does, where it’s allowing the process to play out and we’ll handle it,” Johnson told reporters. “As I’ve been very clear, we have to address these issues on their own merits. Israel desperately needs the assistance. ... We spend a lot of time on the House side awaiting the Senate’s action. It’s frustrating.”
For now, at least, supporters of the Ukraine and Israel aid package are relishing forward momentum after weeks of GOP infighting that repeatedly spilled into the open. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) seemed to be beaming on the Senate floor as votes rolled in that were in favor of the bill.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who called for McConnell to resign as leader earlier this week over his leadership and tactics, approached the Kentucky senator on the chamber floor at one point, and a lengthy discussion between the two men ensued. McConnell grinned for most of it. Their conversation wasn’t audible to watchful reporters above the chamber floor in the Senate galleries.
“I think he continues to have the support of the great majority of our caucus in my view,” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said of McConnell. “There’s always been a group of [senators] that wants to replace him, and I don’t think that’s in the cards until he decides that’s something he wants to do, which I don’t expect anytime soon.”