The Senate voted Thursday to deliver more than $40 billion in new military and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, sending the measure to President Biden after a week-long delay sparked by a lone senator’s objection.
The vote was 86 to 11, with all opposition to the package coming from Republicans.
The new package comes as the pipeline of U.S. aid to Ukraine threatened to run dry this week amid a war that has entered a grueling new phase three months after Russia’s initial invasion. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his Western allies are readying for a protracted battle in the east and south of the country lasting months or years to repel Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces.
The bill provides a combined $20.1 billion in military aid that is expected to provide for the transfer of advanced weapons systems, such as Patriot antiaircraft missiles and long-range artillery. Also included in the bill is more than $8 billion in general economic support for Ukraine, nearly $5 billion in global food aid to address potential food shortages sparked by the collapse of Ukraine’s agricultural economy, and more than $1 billion in combined support for refugees.
While for the bill was strongly bipartisan, Senate leaders were forced to maneuver through a week’s worth of procedural obstacles due to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who raised objections to the bill on fiscal and geopolitical grounds.
His delaying tactics vexed leaders of both parties, who had sought to fast-track the bill to passage last week using a process that requires the consent of all 100 senators.
“This should have already been over and done with, but it is repugnant that one member of the other side … chose to make a show and obstruct Ukraine funding knowing full well he couldn’t actually stop its passage,” Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday. “For Senator Paul to delay Ukraine funding for purely political motives is to only strengthen Putin’s hand.”
Paul defended his objection in a Tuesday floor speech, calling U.S. support for Ukraine “a noble cause, no doubt — a cause for which I have great sympathy and support — but a cause for which the Constitution does not sanction or approve of.”
“Yes, our national security is threatened — not by Russia’s war on Ukraine but by Congress’s war on the American taxpayer,” he said. “The vast majority of Americans sympathize with Ukraine and want them to repel the Russian invaders. But if Congress were honest, they would take the money from elsewhere in the budget or ask Americans to pay higher taxes or, heaven forbid, loan the money to Ukraine instead of giving it to Ukraine. But Congress will do what Congress does best: spend other people’s money.”
Paul offered to lift his hold if Senate leaders would agree to an amendment that would give an existing federal watchdog, the Pentagon’s Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, oversight of the new aid. But Democrats opposed that request, arguing that any changes to the bill would delay it further by requiring the House to pass it again. Some also opposed retasking the existing Afghanistan inspector general with Ukraine matters.
Paul’s views generated pushback from inside his own party — including from a fellow Kentucky Republican, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who argued Thursday that the aid commitment “goes far beyond charity.”
“The future of America’s security and core strategic interests will be shaped by the outcome of this fight,” he said, arguing that a Russian victory would threaten other U.S. allies and embolden China. “Anyone concerned about the cost of supporting a Ukrainian victory should consider the much larger costs should Ukraine lose.”
While only Paul opposed fast-tracking the bill, 10 other Republicans joined him in opposing it in Thursday’s vote: Sens. Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.), John Boozman (Ark.), Mike Braun (Ind.), Mike Crapo (Idaho), Bill Hagerty (Tenn.), Josh Hawley (Mo.), Mike Lee (Utah), Cynthia M. Lummis (Wyo.), Roger Marshall (Kan.) and Tommy Tuberville (Ala.).
Many said in interviews that they shared Paul’s fiscal objections. “I don’t like the idea that we’re footing the bill over there,” Braun said. “The Europeans, it’s in their own backyard, and they’re being very stingy now.”
But at least some echoed the rhetoric of former president Donald Trump, who opposed the bill in a statement last week that decried the ongoing baby formula shortage and declared “America First!”
“I want to do everything we can to help Ukrainian people, but what folks are concerned back home is our own problems, our own challenges,” Marshall said. “I think that America should be first.”
Schumer sharply rebuked that thinking in a Thursday speech, accusing the 11 GOP senators of “using the same soft-on-Putin playbook used by former president Trump.”
“We — Americans, all of us, Democrat and Republican — cannot afford to stick our heads in the sand while Vladimir Putin continues his vicious belligerence against the Ukrainian people,” he said. “But when Republicans and a significant number oppose this package, that is precisely the signal we’re sending to our enemies abroad.”
The package totals $7 billion more than the $33 billion Biden initially requested and comes on top of roughly $14 billion in previously approved aid. It moved forward in the House last week after Biden signaled this month that he wanted the Ukraine aid moved separately on Capitol Hill from another emergency spending request — for at least $10 billion in covid-19 relief — that had become mired in partisan politics.
“This aid has been critical to Ukraine’s success on the battlefield,” Biden said in a May 9 statement. “We cannot allow our shipments of assistance to stop while we await further Congressional action.”
The House voted last week to advance the aid package on a 368-to-57 vote, with all House Democrats and 149 Republicans voting in favor. Fifty-seven House Republicans opposed the bill.
Thursday’s vote came on the heels of the Senate’s confirmation Wednesday of career diplomat Bridget A. Brink to serve as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine — making Brink the first full fledged-ambassador in Kyiv since May 2019, when Trump, then president, recalled Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch.
Previously ambassador to Slovakia, Brink was confirmed by voice vote less than a month after Biden nominated her to the Ukraine post and less than two weeks after Brink had her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — a rapid pace prompted by the Russian invasion and the growing U.S. aid commitment.
Brink told the committee May 10 that her top priority was coordinating the flow of military and humanitarian aid into Ukraine amid the ongoing Russian invasion.
While key lawmakers said it was too early to predict what further resources Congress might need to commit to the Ukraine conflict, they acknowledged more would almost certainly be needed.
Yet the next key Ukraine-related matter to reach Capitol Hill this year may not be funding but the accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO . That move has been sparked by Russia’s invasion, which prompted a reassessment among Finns and Swedes, who have long been wary of joining the transatlantic alliance out of a fear of provoking Russia, with whom the two nations share a border.
Senators of both parties predicted this week that the Senate would move swiftly to ratify the nations’ applications, making them the first new members of NATO since Montenegro was admitted in 2017. Moments after the Ukraine bill passed Thursday, Schumer and McConnell hosted a bipartisan meeting off the Senate floor with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, in a signal of the broad support for the alliance’s expansion.
But it remained unclear whether the vote would be unanimous.
Paul, who voted alongside Lee against Montenegro’s admission in 2017, said this week he was still examining the question. And Hawley, who argued before the Ukraine invasion that NATO expansion could needlessly provoke Russia, said Wednesday he was “not an automatic yes” on Finland and Sweden’s admission.