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Republicans in the US Senate on Wednesday blocked an effort to provide more funding for Ukraine to fight its war against Russia, delivering another blow to one of the White House’s central foreign policy goals.
The bill in the Senate included funding for Israel and Taiwan, but not enough money for border security — a demand of congressional Republicans who said they would not support additional aid for Ukraine without extra curbs on immigration.
US President Joe Biden said before the vote that congressional Republicans’ reluctance to grant more aid to Kyiv amounted to giving Russian President Vladimir Putin the “greatest gift he could hope for”.
Speaking from the White House on Wednesday after a virtual meeting with fellow G7 leaders, Biden said “any disruption in our ability to supply Ukraine clearly strengthens Putin’s position” and indicated the US had “run out of money” to help Kyiv.
“History is going to judge harshly those who turn their back on freedom’s cause. We can’t let Putin win,” Biden said. “It’s in our overwhelming national interest in the . . . interest of all our friends.”
The $111bn spending package before the Senate included $60bn for Ukraine. Senate rules require 60 of the 100 members to vote to continue discussion on the bill, but the measure fell nine votes short.
All Senate Democrats initially voted for the bill, which was defeated by 49 votes to 51. Bernie Sanders, the independent from Vermont who often sides with Democrats, joined Republicans in opposing the bill due to the Israel funding. Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat, changed his vote to a no once it was clear it would not pass, a move allowing him to raise the bill again later.
With the Senate measure now dead, Congress’s ability to reach a deal on Ukraine aid before the end of the year is in doubt — a prospect analysts say will damage Kyiv’s military capabilities and give Russia the edge nearly two years since it launched its full-scale invasion of the country.
The White House has for most of the year been optimistic that Congress would eventually come round to an agreement on Ukraine aid, given that a majority of US lawmakers support it. But that confidence has been shaken several times in recent months.
Biden said it was “stunning” the US had reached a point where Ukraine funding might dry up, pinning the blame squarely on Republicans.
“Republicans in Congress are willing to give Putin the greatest gift he could hope for, and abandoned our global leadership not just in Ukraine but beyond that.”
Aid for Ukraine was left out of two separate stop-gap bills passed in recent months to keep funding the government, and the outbreak of war in the Middle East between Israel and Hamas has made it harder for Congress to prioritise aid for Ukraine.
Meanwhile, polling has shown dwindling political support across the country for aid to Ukraine. According to Gallup, 41 per cent of Americans say the US is doing “too much” to help Ukraine, a sharp increase compared with 29 per cent who said the same in June.
While Democrats are largely supportive of aid to Ukraine, Republicans in Congress have increasingly balked at sending additional aid to Kyiv to help it win back territory from Russian forces.
Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson, a hardline conservative from Louisiana and a close ally of Donald Trump, is demanding strict curbs on immigration at the southern border with Mexico in return for any aid to Ukraine — which is an unpalatable condition to most Democrats and the White House.
Republicans in the Senate who have previously supported Kyiv embraced Johnson’s position this week, in a development that surprised those who hoped for a bipartisan compromise.
“Republicans are playing chicken with our national security, holding Ukraine’s funding hostage to their extreme partisan border policies,” Biden said. The US president said he was “willing to make significant compromises on the border”, but “thus far I’ve gotten no response”.
Still, Biden said he would continue to press for a solution.
“I’m not prepared to walk away and I don’t think the American people are either.”
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