Republicans block $110B military aid for Ukraine and Israel, demand border policy reforms

United States: Republicans in the United States Senate, earlier on December 6, voted down a US$110 billion package of military funding for Ukraine and Israel, as well as other national security concerns, to force President Joe Biden to make reforms to US border policy.

Senate vote and Biden’s response

The vote was 49-51, falling short of the Senate’s 60-vote threshold for proceeding. It occurred only hours after President Biden said it was “stunning” that Congress had not yet approved tens of billions of dollars in military and economic aid for Ukraine. If parliamentarians do not act, his administration has warned of catastrophic implications for Kyiv, as well as a “gift” to Russia’s Vladimir Putin, according to the news agency Associated Press. 

Biden’s plea and criticism

President Biden said at the White House that Republicans who want border policy changes as a condition for voting on the aid are “playing chicken with our national security” despite expressing openness to some policy changes.

“Republicans in Congress are willing to give Putin the greatest gift he could hope for,” Biden said, adding that American reputation was at stake with both other potential aggressors and its allies. “Any disruption in our ability to supply Ukraine strengthens Putin’s position.”

US President Joe Biden | Credits: AP Photo

“If we don’t support Ukraine, what is the rest of the world going to do?” he questioned.

Biden’s speech comes only hours after he met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) advanced democracies, who have consistently backed Ukraine against Russia’s military aggression.

What opposition was expressed? 

Biden has requested about US$106 billion from Congress to support the battles in Ukraine and Israel and other security demands. Still, he has met with significant opposition on Capitol Hill. Some Republicans have grown tired of delivering aid to Ukraine after the United States has already sent US$111 billion, while other Republicans are demanding strict changes to US border policy as a condition of voting for the package.

President stated that he supported increased funding for border security. “I am willing to make significant compromises on the border,” he told reporters. Biden further stated, “We must repair the broken border system.” It’s shattered.” He added that he is “ready to change policy as well” but accused Republicans of prioritizing politics over bipartisanship, AP News noted.

“Republicans think they get everything they want without any bipartisan compromise,” Biden said, adding, “Now they’re willing to literally kneecap Ukraine on the battlefield and damage our national security in the process.” However, he has not stated publicly what policy changes he would support.

The White House has sent increasingly stern warnings to Congress about the consequences of failing to pass the bill by the end of the previous year, claiming that Ukraine’s military will be stalled or worse.

“We’re the reason Putin hasn’t totally overrun Ukraine,” Biden remarked.

On Capitol Hill, Senate Democrats attempted to move the aid plan ahead, but Republicans refused to accept it unless it included modifications to US border policy. This week, negotiations on the measure nearly came to a halt.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer referred to the outcome as “a sad night in the history of the Senate and our country.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer | Credits: AP Photo

“Legislation that doesn’t include policy changes to secure our borders will not pass the Senate,” McConnell said in a speech on the Senate floor earlier Wednesday. “The situation unfolding at our southern border on President Biden’s watch is a crisis of historic proportions,” he added.

Republicans cited the unprecedented number of migrants crossing the southern border as a security risk because border officers are unable to thoroughly check them. However, their demand that Congress adopt meaningful changes to US border policy injects an issue into the debate that politicians have been grappling with for decades with little success.

Schumer’s challenge and GOP’s response

By staging the test vote, Schumer challenged his Republican colleagues to vote against the cause of Ukraine funding they had previously supported. In a speech, he stated that the Senate is confronted with a matter that “goes to the actual preservation of Western and democratic values in the world.”

Democrats were also pressing their case with Ukrainian leaders on Capitol Hill, including the speaker of Ukraine’s parliament.

The GOP’s posture appeared to be unaffected by the pressure. Senators expressed some optimism that President Biden’s statements might rekindle discussions on border security policies, the claims by AP revealed.

By staging the test vote, Schumer challenged his Republican colleagues to vote against the cause of Ukraine funding they had previously supported. In a speech, he stated that the Senate is confronted with a matter that “goes to the actual preservation of Western and democratic values in the world.”

As the GOP senators shift their focus away from the test vote, they are reportedly preparing a proposal for the bipartisan group involved in the ongoing talks. While there has been some progress in finding common ground on increasing the initial standards for migrants seeking asylum, a major sticking point remains the issue of humanitarian parole. This program, which allows the executive branch to temporarily admit migrants, has been a point of contention among senators, with some seeking to place limitations on its use.

“We’re clearly engaging in the negotiations, trying to be able to solve this,” said Sen. James Lankford, a Republican of Oklahoma who is involved in the talks.

Even if senators manage to reach an agreement on the aid plan, it will face severe challenges in the House. The chamber’s hardline conservatives have pledged to block it unless it adopts a comprehensive set of hardline border and immigration policies.

House Speaker Mike Johnson, who has previously expressed reservations about money for Ukraine, has indicated that he will not accept the aid package if it does not comply with HR 2, a plan that would restructure the United States immigration system with conservative principles. It passed the House on a party-line vote in May, but Senate Democrats rejected it.

Military Aid Announcement

Guided missiles for the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), anti-armor system, and high-speed anti-radiation missiles, including $175 million, will be sent as military aid to Ukraine, announced by the United States.

On Tuesday, Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said Tuesday that there is around US$1.1 billion left in financing to replace US military inventories for weapons and equipment deployed to Ukraine. He also stated that approximately US$4.8 billion in drawdown authority is still available.