© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Tourists walk near the U.S. Capitol as the Senate votes to begin work on a bill that includes aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan in Washington, U.S., February 9, 2024. REUTERS/Nathan Howard/File Photo
By David Morgan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A narrowly divided U.S. Senate moved closer to passing a $95.34 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan on Sunday, showing undiminished bipartisanship despite opposition from Republican hardliners and Donald Trump.
The Democratic-led Senate voted 67-27 in a rare Sunday session to clear the latest procedural hurdle and moved the foreign aid measure toward an ultimate vote on passage in the coming days.
The money is viewed as crucial by Kyiv, as it grinds toward the second anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But Senate passage would send the bill on to the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, where it faces an uncertain future.
Eighteen Republicans backed the legislation after Trump, the dominant Republican White House candidate, criticized the bill on social media by saying that the foreign aid should take the form of a loan. Trump also sparked exasperation at home and abroad by saying he would encourage aggression against NATO allies who do not pay their dues to the alliance.
Ahead of Sunday’s vote, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell chided those who he said would disregard U.S. global interests, bemoan American leadership and lament international commitments.
“This is idle work for idle minds, and it has no place in the United States Senate,” McConnell said. “American leadership matters. And it is in question.”
Democratic President Joe Biden, who has been seeking the aid for months, on Friday said Congress would be guilty of “neglect” if it failed to pass the measure.
The next Senate action is expected on Monday sometime after 8 p.m. EST (0100 GMT), when lawmakers are due to hold two procedural votes: one to adopt the foreign aid package as an amendment to an underlying House bill; and a second to limit debate ahead of a final vote on passage, which could come on Wednesday, according to aides.
The legislation includes $61 billion for Ukraine, $14 billion for Israel in its war against Hamas and $4.83 billion to support partners in the Indo-Pacific, including Taiwan, and deter aggression by China.
It also would provide $9.15 billion in humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza and the West Bank, Ukraine and other conflict zones around the globe.
House Speaker Mike Johnson, who has a slim 219-212 Republican majority, has indicated that he could try to split the aid provisions into separate measures once the bill arrives from the Senate.
But a standalone aid bill for Israel fell victim in the House last week to opposition from Democrats who favor the broader Senate legislation and from hardline Republicans who wanted compensating spending cuts, in a pair of humiliating defeats for Johnson.
During a visit to Kyiv on Friday, a bipartisan delegation of House lawmakers vowed to do their part to pass the measure.
Senate Republicans believe bipartisan passage would help stir support among Republicans in the House.
“It will shape the environment such that … more Republicans will feel comfortable advancing the bill,” Senator Todd Young, an Indiana Republican, told reporters.
Republican support for the measure could grow and the pace of progress could quicken if Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and McConnell can reach an agreement allowing votes on Republican amendments.
Republicans want amendments that could address the record flow of migrants across the U.S.-Mexico border and forgo humanitarian assistance provisions by restricting foreign aid to weapons and materiel.
But some Republicans who oppose further aid to Ukraine have vowed to delay consideration by forcing the Senate to comply with a labyrinth of time-consuming parliamentary rules.