U.S. Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks during a news briefing after a weekly Senate Republican Policy Luncheon at the U.S. Capitol on Dec. 5, 2023 in Washington, D.C. McConnell said Dec. 6 that Republicans would block a supplemental spending package that would have provided aid to Israel and Ukraine because it “fails to address America’s top national security priorities in a serious way.” (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate failed to move forward Wednesday with a $111 billion spending package that would have bolstered aid to Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan and the Southern border amid deep disagreement about immigration policy.
The 49-51 procedural vote, which needed at least 60 senators to advance the bill toward final passage, represents a significant roadblock for providing additional military or humanitarian aid this year as wars continue in Ukraine and Gaza.
With Congress set to leave for its December break at the end of next week, there’s not much time for Democrats and Republicans to get back to the negotiating table and reach agreement.
“The question before the Senate today is simple yet momentous,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said before the vote. “Will senators agree to begin debate, just a debate, on legislation to defend America’s national security on an issue so important it goes to the actual preservation of Western and democratic values in the world?”
Schumer rebuked GOP lawmakers for linking changes to the nation’s immigration system to the spending package.
Schumer said he had offered GOP leaders a vote on an amendment of their choosing on immigration policy, though he said they had “spurned” that proposal.
“This is a golden opportunity for Republicans to present whatever border policy they want and our side will not interfere with the construction of that amendment in any way,” Schumer said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Republicans would block the supplemental spending package because it “fails to address America’s top national security priorities in a serious way.”
“Fixing a badly broken asylum and parole system isn’t hijacking the supplemental, it’s strengthening it,” the Kentucky Republican said. “Securing our Southern border isn’t extraneous to our national security, it’s essential.”
McConnell said he would “invite” Democrats, who control that chamber, to resume negotiations with GOP senators on changes to immigration policy to secure approval of aid to Ukraine and Israel.
“If today’s vote is what it takes for the Democratic leader to recognize that Senate Republicans mean what we say, then let’s vote, then let’s finally start meeting America’s national security priorities, including right here at home,” McConnell said.
South Dakota Republican John Thune, the minority whip and No. 2 Senate Republican behind McConnell, said on the Senate floor that the Republican position won’t change.
“The Democrat leader needs to understand that Republicans are serious,” Thune said. “We’ve said all along that this national security supplemental must address the national security crisis at our border. And we will continue to hold to that principle.”
‘We can’t let Putin win’
President Joe Biden, speaking from the White House before the vote, urged Congress to approve more aid.
Halting military assistance to Ukraine, Biden said, would increase the chances that Russia overtakes that country. That would bring Russia’s Vladimir Putin one step closer to conflict with NATO countries, including the United States.
“Make no mistake, today’s vote is going to be long remembered and history is going to judge harshly those who turn their back on freedom’s cause,” Biden said. “We can’t let Putin win.”
Biden said he was willing to overhaul policy around immigration and the border, but urged GOP lawmakers not to “kneecap Ukraine.”
“I am willing to make significant compromises on the border — we need to fix the broken border system,” Biden said.
Package grew to $111 billion
The Biden administration sent Congress an emergency spending request in October that proposed more than $105 billion in assistance for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan and the U.S. border.
The package that stalled Wednesday would have provided nearly $111 billion for those issues, but it didn’t include changes to immigration policy — one of the more complicated and politically charged issues for Democrats and Republicans.
White House budget director Shalanda Young wrote to congressional leaders on Monday to warn that without a new spending bill, the United States would no longer be able to provide Ukraine with weapons.
“There is no magical pot of funding available to meet this moment,” Young wrote. “We are out of money — and nearly out of time.”
Speaker Mike Johnson, a Louisiana Republican, released a two-page letter Tuesday seeking to remind the Biden administration that “Ukraine funding is dependent upon enactment of transformative change to our nation’s border security laws.”
He also expressed frustration the White House had not provided “answers to our repeated questions concerning: the Administration’s strategy to prevail in Ukraine; clearly defined and obtainable objectives; transparency and accountability for U.S. taxpayer dollars invested there; and what specific resources are required to achieve victory and a sustainable peace.”
Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Lankford, the top GOP negotiator on border policy, said Wednesday he took Biden’s comments as a signal that there may be room to restart negotiations.
He said he believes there is time to find agreement before Congress begins its winter break.
“If anything moves this place more than a deadline, I don’t know what it would be,” Lankford said. “When deadlines come, everyone’s undivided attention is there and we realize ‘Okay, now it’s time to actually solve this.’”
Lankford said he understood very well the signal that it would send if Congress does not approve additional aid for Ukraine and Israel.
“If we walk away at Christmas time, I think it’s perceived by Israel and perceived by Ukraine and perceived by China that this is not important when it is,” Lankford said. “And so we’re trying to be able to resolve it.”
Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, the top Democrat in negotiations, said Wednesday he was unsure when or how progress would be made on immigration policy talks, but said aid for Ukraine and Israel cannot wait.
“We’re handing Ukraine and Europe to Vladimir Putin if we wait until next year,” Murphy said, adding he was ready to begin talks again if Republicans are “serious.”
“It’s terribly unclear to me as to whether they are interested in negotiating or whether they are making non-negotiable demands,” he said. “It seems they have not made up their minds on what their strategy is.”
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Senate Democrats’ bill
Senate Democrats released the 167-page emergency spending bill, totaling $110.5 billion, on Tuesday afternoon.
The package would provide the U.S. Defense Department with $15.1 billion for military assistance to Ukraine, $10.6 billion for Israel and $43.6 billion to “increase U.S. weapons and munitions production capacity, invest in the U.S. submarine industrial base, and enhance U.S. and allied stockpiles,” according to a summary of the legislation.
The Defense Department’s Office of the Inspector General would get $8 million to oversee how the funding is spent.
The U.S. State Department would get $11.8 billion for budgetary support for Ukraine and $1.7 billion in foreign military financing for Ukraine as well as other regional allies.
The State Department would receive $3.5 billion for military financing for Israel and $25 million for “reconciliation programs in the region, including between Palestinians and Israelis,” according to the summary.
Another $2 billion in foreign military financing from the State Department would go toward U.S. allies in the Indo-Pacific.
The State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development would receive $10 billion for humanitarian assistance around the world, including food and shelter.
The bill would provide billions to address border security and the flow of fentanyl into the United States, including $1.42 billion for the Justice Department to hire immigration judges, court administrators and other legal staff.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation would get $204 million and the Drug Enforcement Administration would receive $23.2 million. Another $11.8 million would go to a joint task force that works to reduce trafficking of drugs and human beings in the Western Hemisphere.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection would receive $5.3 billion while Immigration and Customs Enforcement would get $2.4 billion. Another $755 million would go to Citizenship and Immigration Services “to address processing and adjudication backlogs, including work authorization and asylum programs,” according to the summary.
The U.S. State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development would receive $400 million to address “irregular migration in the Western Hemisphere.”
The package also includes bipartisan legislation to address fentanyl trafficking that was originally co-sponsored by South Carolina Republican Sen. Tim Scott, Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, Mississippi Republican Sen. Roger Wicker and Rhode Island Democratic Sen. Jack Reed.
That bill has amassed more than 60 additional co-sponsors since it was introduced in June.
— The staff of South Dakota Searchlight contributed to this report.
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