Monday, March 4, 2024

US Senate blocks Ukraine, Israel funding bill

US Senate Republicans on Wednesday blocked a bill to provide aid to Ukraine and Israel over a lack of border provisions in the measure.

Senators voted 49-51, failing to reach the 60-vote threshold that would allow the proposal to come up for consideration. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) voted with every Republican against the measure. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) flipped his vote to “no” so he could bring the bill up again in the future.

The $111 billion emergency supplemental package requested by President Joe Biden also included aid for the Indo-Pacific region, as well as funding for humanitarian aid in Gaza, the border and to combat fentanyl trafficking.

Despite their support for most of those items, Senate Republicans have insisted for weeks that they would withhold their votes on the motion to proceed if the bill did not have a satisfactory border remedy attached.

Sens. James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) had led border discussions over the past month, but those languished last week before Murphy and Democrats walked away from the table, arguing Republicans were asking for too much.

The situation has upset members on both sides.

“Why hold up Ukraine aid if they can’t even present a border package that can pass the Senate?” Schumer said on the floor earlier Wednesday.

“We are asking ourselves this question: Has border been nothing more than an excuse for the hard right to kill funding for Ukraine, and too many other Republican senators who are not part of the hard right are going along?” he continued, adding, “I hope that’s not true.”

Senate Republicans meanwhile, have accused Democrats of not taking their concerns to heart when they’ve made their position clear all along.

“I don’t think they are [taking us seriously enough],” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) stated earlier this week.

“It may take a failed cloture vote for them to realize we’re serious, and we’re prepared to do that.”

While Senate Republicans are supportive of border action, part of their incentive to attach it to the supplemental resides across the Capitol. House conservatives, many of whom are skeptical of Ukraine aid as it is, say a border fix is a prerequisite for their votes.

Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) told Senate Republicans last week that as much of H.R. 2, the House-passed conservative border proposal, should be included as possible.

Senate Democrats have labeled the items included in H.R. 2 a non-starter. Talks between the two sides had centered on asylum and parole, with the group making progress on the former item. But just as they did so, progressive members and activists cried foul and warned Democratic negotiators against significantly curtailing asylum and parole claims.

The Senate GOP, however, has framed the argument through the lens of national security and have been intent on keeping the focus on border security rather than immigration, which Democrats prefer.

“Senate Republicans know this isn’t an either-or proposition. We know that national security begins with border security,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on the floor on Wednesday.

“I’ve spent months highlighting the undeniable links between the threats we face in Europe, in the Middle East, and in the Indo-Pacific. But Democratic leadership appears to be telling us today that they’re willing to risk each of these urgent priorities to avoid fixing our own borders right here at home,“ he added.

Tensions also ratcheted up on Tuesday during a classified briefing when a number of Senate Republicans left early and were visibly upset after it became clear there was to be no discussion on border security and that the briefers were there to talk about other items in the supplemental.

However, Biden on Wednesday signaled a renewed openness to strike a deal, saying he’s willing to make “significant compromises” on border policy in order to unlock the funding for Ukraine in their continued war against Russia.

“I’ve made it clear that we need Congress to make changes to fix what is a broken immigration system, because we know, we all know it’s broken, and I’m willing to do significantly more,” Biden stated in remarks at the White House.

“But in terms of changes of policy and to provide resources we need at the border, I’m willing to change policy as well.”

The current monies included in the supplemental related to the border are aimed at increasing the number of border agents, immigration judges and asylum officers.

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