WASHINGTON — After a weeklong delay, the Senate voted Thursday to pass a $40 billion military, economic and humanitarian aid package for Ukraine as its bloody war with Russia neared the three-month mark.
The vote was 86-11, with Republicans casting all of the no votes. The Senate also voted to confirm Bridget Brink to be the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine on Wednesday night, shortly after the State Department announced it was reopening its embassy in Kyiv.
Democratic and Republican leaders had hoped to quickly take up the House-passed package last week, but Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., objected and dragged out the process over a dispute about oversight of the spending.
Thursday’s big bipartisan vote, which sends the aid package to President Joe Biden’s desk for his signature, is an unmistakable signal to Kyiv that the U.S. remains firmly in its corner. Paul’s stall tactics miffed many colleagues who had warned that Ukraine is dangerously close to running out of weapons, food and other supplies.
The aid package “is extremely critical; it was critical last week,” said Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who added: “And I cannot believe that some on the Republican side have held it up. Every day it’s delayed, it impacts the war effort.”
Paul, a fiscal conservative known for his isolationist views, had failed to reach a deal with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., over his demands. Paul wanted language in the bill to create a special inspector general position to oversee all Ukraine spending. He suggested that John F. Sopko, who was a U.S. watchdog for Afghanistan reconstruction over the past decade, could do the job.
Schumer proposed holding a vote on an amendment to create the position, but Paul rejected the offer.
“We’ve already got the best solution, and that is a special inspector who has a track record,” Paul said this week. “We think the special inspector from Afghanistan would be ideal — he’s ready to go. They can do the job. But any other alternative, we think, falls short.”
In the end, no new language was added to the House-passed bill, which includes provisions to fund oversight of spending at the Defense and State departments and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
All opposition came from GOP lawmakers when the legislation passed the House in a 368-57 vote this month. On Thursday, Paul and 10 other Senate Republicans voted against the aid package.
The others who voted no were Sens. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, John Boozman of Arkansas, Mike Braun of Indiana, Mike Crapo of Idaho, Bill Hagerty of Tennessee, Josh Hawley of Missouri, Mike Lee of Utah, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, Roger Marshall of Kansas and Tommy Tuberville of Alabama.
The biggest parts are $9 billion to replenish U.S. stocks of military equipment sent to Ukraine; nearly $4 billion for European Command operations, including intelligence support and hardship pay for troops deployed to 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 for Ukraine to date, and it would bring to more than $53 billion the amount of aid the U.S. has given to Ukraine since Russia invaded on Feb. 24.
But given the scale of the war effort, Schumer and other lawmakers said they are not certain it will be the last tranche.
“The Ukrainians are valiant. They’re making progress,” Schumer told reporters, pointing to successful campaigns in the Kharkiv region in northeast Ukraine. “They’re doing the fighting. They’re the ones getting killed. They’re the ones struggling and suffering. The least we can do is give them the weaponry they need.”
Asked whether the Ukrainians will need more U.S. aid after this batch, Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the top GOP appropriator, said: “Probably, probably, probably. Europe’s going to be involved, and that will be led by the Germans — they’re the richest country over there.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., led a small delegation of GOP senators to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy over the weekend in Kyiv. GOP Sens. John Cornyn of Texas, John Barrasso of Wyoming and Susan Collins of Maine joined McConnell in Ukraine.
“This is not some handout,” McConnell told reporters after the trip, saying the aid is needed to help repel Russian President Vladimir Putin. “This is to prevent this ruthless thug from beginning a march through Europe. The first place to do that is in Ukraine, and that’s what we’re determined to do.”
But as the war has raged on, congressional Republicans have grown more and more divided over assistance for Ukraine.
Braun said he opposed the legislation for two reasons: It is not paid for with offsets, and the European Union has not provided matching funds.
“With this rush to do it ourselves, is the E.U. matching us? They’re not, and that is a valid question. You know that it’s in their own backyard,” Braun told reporters. “If it would have been paid for and the E.U. was matching it, I would have voted for it.”