WASHINGTON – After a week’s delay, the Senate voted Thursday to pass a $40 billion military, economic and humanitarian aid package to Ukraine as its bloody war with Russia approaches the three-month threshold.
The vote was 86-11, with Republicans voting “no.” The Senate also voted to confirm Brigitte Brink as US ambassador to Ukraine on Wednesday evening, shortly after the State Department announced the reopening of its embassy in Kyiv.
Democratic and Republican leaders had hoped the package passed by the House of Representatives would be quickly addressed last week, but Senator Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, objected and called off the process due to a row over spending oversight.
Thursday’s big bipartisan vote, which sends the aid package to President Joe Biden’s office for his signature, is an unmistakable signal to Kyiv that the United States remains firmly in its corner. Paul’s stalling tactics upset many colleagues, who warned that Ukraine was dangerously running out of weapons, food and other supplies.
The aid package is “very critical; I can’t believe some on the Republican side are holding it back. Every day it gets delayed, it affects the war effort.”
Paul, a Malian conservative known for his isolationist views, failed to reach agreement with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, on his demands. Paul wanted language in the bill to create a special inspector general position to oversee all of Ukraine’s expenditures. He noted that John F. Sobko, who has been a US observer of Afghanistan’s reconstruction for the past decade, could do the job.
Schumer proposed a vote on an amendment to create the position, but Paul rejected the offer.
“We actually have the best solution, and it’s a special inspector with a proven track record,” Paul said this week. We think the special inspector from Afghanistan would be perfect – he’s ready to go. They can do the job. But any other alternative, we think, falls short.”
Ultimately, no new language was added to the bill passed by the House, which includes provisions to fund oversight of spending in the Departments of Defense and State and the US Agency for International Development.
All the opposition came from Republican lawmakers when the legislation passed in the House of Representatives 368 to 57 this month. Paul and 10 other Republican senators on Thursday voted against the aid package.
Others who voted “no” were Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, John Bozeman of Arkansas, Mike Brown of Indiana, Mike Crabow of Idaho, Bill Haggerty of Tennessee, Josh Hawley of Missouri, Mike Lee of Utah, Cynthia Loomis of Wyoming and Roger Marshall of KS, and Tommy Tuberville of Alabama.
The largest parts are $9 billion to replenish the US stockpile of military equipment sent to Ukraine; nearly $4 billion for European Command operations, including intelligence support and hardship for forces deployed in the region; billions of dollars to address food shortages and the impact of rising food prices; And billions more in humanitarian aid for Ukrainian refugees.
It represents the largest aid package to Ukraine to date, and will amount to more than $53 billion in the amount of aid the United States has provided to Ukraine since the invasion of Russia on February 24.
But given the scale of the war effort, Schumer and other lawmakers said they weren’t sure it would be the last tranche.
“The Ukrainians are brave. They are making progress,” Schumer told reporters, referring to successful campaigns in the Kharkiv region in northeastern Ukraine. “They are fighting. They are the ones who were killed. They are the ones who struggle and suffer. The least we can do is give them the weapons they need.”
Asked if the Ukrainians would need more US aid after this batch, Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, the Republican Party’s largest financier, said: “Probably, probably. Europe will be involved, and the Germans will lead that — they are the richest country out there.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kyiv Republican, led a small delegation of Republican senators to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky over the weekend in Kyiv. Republican Senators John Cornyn of Texas, John Barrasso of Wyoming and Susan Collins of McConnell State in Ukraine joined in.
“This is not some handouts,” McConnell told reporters after the trip, adding that the assistance was needed to help fend off Russian President Vladimir Putin. This is to prevent this ruthless thug from starting a march across Europe. The first place to do that is Ukraine, and that’s what we are determined to do.”
But as the war raged, Republicans in Congress were increasingly divided over aiding Ukraine.
Brown said he opposed the legislation for two reasons: it was not paid for through reparations, and the European Union did not provide equivalent funds.
“With such a rush to do it ourselves, does the EU suit us? They are not, and that’s a valid question. You know it’s in their backyard,” Brown told reporters. “If it had been paid for and the EU had matched it, I would have voted for it.”