Republican senators on Wednesday blocked a procedural vote on a $111 billion national security package that includes roughly $61 billion in aid for Ukraine as well as funds for Israel and immigration enforcement. All 49 Republicans plus independent Sen. Bernie Sanders voted against moving forward on the bill, leaving Democrats well short of the 60-vote threshold.
“Tonight is a sad night in the history of the Senate and in our country,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said after the vote. “If there’s a word for what we most need now it is to be serious. If Republicans in the Senate do not get serious very soon about a national security package, Vladimir Putin is going to walk right through Ukraine and right through Europe.”
Although senators in both parties have spoken in support of providing additional aid to Ukraine, Republicans are demanding that any supplemental spending package include significant changes in immigration policy. “If they want money for Ukraine and Israel, they’re not going to get it unless they close the border,” Republican Sen. Mitt Romney said.
Democrats want to focus on the aid for allies and accuse Republicans of demanding too much. “You’ve got Republican leaders saying this isn’t a negotiation, this is about putting a gun to the head of Ukraine and getting whatever we want,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse told Politico. “That’s not the way legislation customarily works.”
Schumer insisted that Democrats had made a fair offer to allow Republicans to bring up any border amendments to the aid package at a 60-vote threshold. He said that offer still stands and that Democrats are open to compromising with Republicans.
Biden pushes package: Speaking at the White House earlier Wednesday, President Joe Biden said it is urgent that lawmakers pass the security package and said he is willing to make “significant compromises” on border policy to ensure that aid to Ukraine continues to flow.
“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 said. “But in terms of changes of policy and to provide resources we need at the border, I’m willing to change policy as well.”
At the same time, Biden criticized Republicans for refusing to compromise. “Republicans think they can get everything they want without any bipartisan compromise. That’s not the answer,” he said. “And now they’re willing to literally kneecap Ukraine on the battlefield and damage our national security in the process.”
The aid package “cannot wait,” Biden added. “Congress needs to pass supplemental funding for Ukraine before they break for the holiday recess. Simple as that,” he said. “Frankly, I think it’s stunning that we’ve gotten to this point in the first place. Republicans in Congress are willing to give Putin the greatest gift he can hope for and abandon our global leadership.”
Tempers flare: A dozen or more Republican senators walked out of a Tuesday briefing on Ukraine led by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, as conservatives protested what they said was a lack of focus on border issues. “Their lack of preparedness to discuss and their clear apprehension to utter a word as it pertains to border security policy was not just an oversight, it was intentional,” said Sen. Todd Young, a Republican from Indiana.
It's not clear exactly what set of border policy changes would satisfy Senate Republicans at this point, but one recent GOP proposal reportedly was virtually the same as H.R. 2, the immigration bill passed by the House in May — a hardline set of policies that Democrats have said are unacceptable.
That leaves senators looking for a way to make a deal, but lacking an obvious path to get there. “You're not going to find something that gets every Democrat or Republican,” said Senate Minority Whip John Thune, a Republican from South Dakota. “But we need to find something that gets hopefully the majority of both.”
The bottom line: The effort to provide more aid to Ukraine has stalled, and there are worries that the delay could become permanent. The Senate is scheduled to leave town for the week on Thursday afternoon and has just one more week on its schedule for the rest of the year.