U.S. House passes $95B US aid package for Ukraine, Israel and other allies | CBC News

The U.S. House of Representatives swiftly approved $95 billion US in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies in a rare Saturday session as Democrats and Republicans banded together after months of hard-right resistance over renewed American support for repelling Russia’s invasion.

With overwhelming support, the $61 billion in aid for Ukraine delivered a strong showing as American lawmakers race to deliver a fresh round of U.S. support to the war-torn ally. Some cheered on the House floor, waving blue-and-yellow flags of Ukraine.

Aid to Israel and the other allies also won approval by healthy margins, as did a measure to clamp down on the popular social media platform TikTok, with unique coalitions forming to push the separate bills forward.

U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson, centre, walks to the floor of the House of Representatives ahead of a series of votes on Saturday that saw lawmakers swiftly approve $95 billion US in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies. (Ken Cedeno/Reuters)

The whole package will go to the U.S. Senate, which could pass it as soon as Tuesday. U.S. President Joe Biden has promised to sign it immediately.

“We did our work here, and I think history will judge it well,” said embattled House Speaker Mike Johnson, who risked his own job to marshal the package to passage.

In a statement, Biden thanked Johnson, Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries and the bipartisan coalition of lawmakers “who voted to put our national security first.”

“I urge the Senate to quickly send this package to my desk so that I can sign it into law and we can quickly send weapons and equipment to Ukraine to meet their urgent battlefield needs,” the president said.

Zelenskyy expresses gratitude

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he was “grateful” to both parties in the House and “personally Speaker Mike Johnson for the decision that keeps history on the right track,” he said on X, formerly Twitter. “Thank you, America!”

The scene in Congress was a striking display of action after months of dysfunction and stalemate fuelled by Republicans, who hold the majority but are deeply split over foreign aid, particularly for Ukraine.

Activists supporting Ukraine demonstrate outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.
Activists supporting Ukraine demonstrate outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Saturday. (J. Scott Applewhite/The Associated Press)

Johnson relied on Democrats to ensure the military and humanitarian package won approval.

The morning opened with a sombre and serious debate and unusual sense of purpose as Republican and Democratic leaders united to urge quick approval, saying that would ensure the United States supported its allies and remained a leader on the world stage. The House’s visitor galleries crowded with onlookers.

“The eyes of the world are upon us, and history will judge what we do here and now,” said Rep. Michael McCaul, the Republican chair of the House foreign affairs committee.

Pressure on Speaker

Passage through the House cleared away the biggest hurdle to Biden’s funding request, first made in October as Ukraine’s military supplies began to run low.

The Republican-controlled House struggled for months over what to do, first demanding that any assistance be tied to policy changes at the U.S.-Mexico order, only to immediately reject a bipartisan Senate offer along those very lines.

A view of the U.S. Capitol is seen in Washington on Saturday, the day that U.S. lawmakers were to vote on legislation providing $95 billion US in security assistance to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.
Lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives began voting on legislation providing $95 billion US in security assistance to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, in Washington on Saturday. (Ken Cedeno/Reuters)

Reaching an endgame has been an excruciating lift for Johnson that has tested both his resolve and his support among Republicans, with a small but growing number now openly urging his removal from the Speaker’s office.

Yet congressional leaders cast the votes as a turning point in history — an urgent sacrifice as U.S. allies are beleaguered by wars and threats from continental Europe to the Middle East to the Indo-Pacific.

“Sometimes when you are living history, as we are today, you don’t understand the significance of the actions of the votes that we make on this House floor, of the effect that it will have down the road,” said New York Rep. Gregory Meeks, the top Democrat on the House foreign affairs committee. “This is a historic moment.”

Opponents, particularly the hard-right Republicans from Johnson’s majority, argued that the U.S. should focus on the home front, addressing domestic border security and the nation’s rising debt load — and they warned against spending more money, which largely flows to American defence manufacturers, to produce weaponry used overseas.

Still, Congress has seen a stream of world leaders visit in recent months, from Zelenskyy to Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, all but pleading with lawmakers to approve the aid. Globally, the delay left many questioning the U.S. commitment to its allies.

At stake has been one of Biden’s top foreign policy priorities — halting Russian President Vladimir Putin’s advance in Europe. After engaging in quiet talks with Johnson, the president quickly endorsed Johnson’s plan, paving the way for Democrats to give their rare support to clear the procedural hurdles needed for a final vote.

While aid for Ukraine failed to win a majority of Republicans, several dozen progressive Democrats voted against the bill aiding Israel. Ukraine’s defence once enjoyed robust, bipartisan support in Congress, but with the war now in its third year, the bulk of Republicans oppose further aid.

At the same time, Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, has loomed large over the fight, weighing in from afar via social media statements and direct phone calls with lawmakers as he tilts the Republican Party to a more isolationist stance with his “America First” brand of politics.

Russian missile fragment seen near area where a farmer works in his field in Izium, Ukraine.
A fragment of a Russian missile is seen in the foreground as a farmer works on his field in Izium, in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region, on Saturday. (Andrii Marienko/The Associated Press)

The package included several Republican priorities that Democrats endorsed, or at least are willing to accept. Those include proposals that allow the U.S. to seize frozen Russian central bank assets to rebuild Ukraine; impose sanctions on Iran, Russia, China and criminal organizations that traffic fentanyl; and legislation to require the China-based owner of the popular video app TikTok to sell its stake within a year or face a ban in the United States.

Still, the all-out push to get the bills through Congress is a reflection not only of politics but of realities on the ground in Ukraine. Top lawmakers on national security committees, who are privy to classified briefings, have grown gravely concerned about the tide of the war as Russia pummels Ukrainian forces beset by a shortage of troops and ammunition.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced that the Senate would begin procedural votes on the package on Tuesday, saying, “Our allies across the world have been waiting for this moment.”

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, as he prepared to overcome objections from his right flank next week, said, “The task before us is urgent. It is once again the Senate’s turn to make history.”

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