Donald Trump Could Not Stop the Senate's Ukraine Aid Bill

Donald Trump
February 15, 2024 Topic: Politics Region: Americas Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: PoliticsUkraineDonald TrumpSenateMitch McConnell

Donald Trump Could Not Stop the Senate's Ukraine Aid Bill

The Senate passing the bill is a small victory for the pro-Ukraine lobby – but there could be many twists and turns before it gets voted on in the House, if it does at all. 

After months of wrangling, the US Senate has finally passed Joe Biden’s US$95 billion (£75 billion) foreign aid package. Ukraine is the destination for almost two-thirds of the aid, with US$14 billion set aside to assist Israel’s war against Hamas, and US$10 billion destined for humanitarian aid in conflict areas, such as Gaza.

The bill passed the Senate by 70 votes to 29, with 22 Republicans joining the Democrat majority. But two Democrats and Bernie Sanders, the independent senator for Vermont, voted against the bill because of its support of Israel.

The split in the Senate illustrates the divisions among both parties on the subject.

Republican senators originally voted against a much larger bill (US$118 billion). They demanded that any foreign aid package must be dependent on increased funding for security on the US southern border with Mexico, and declared the proposed bill was insufficient to address concerns there.

But when former president Donald Trump came out against the bill, even with the financial support for border control measures, Republicans were divided. Trump called the bill a “horrible, open borders betrayal of America,” and vowed that he would “fight it all the way”.

Republican support for the bill was led by Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell. McConnell has always been supportive of Ukraine, claiming it is in the US interest to support Ukraine. After passing the bill, McConnell argued: “We equip our friends to face our shared adversaries so we’re less likely to have to spend American lives to defeat them.”

McConnell’s advocacy was enough to get the bill through the Senate, although his position as leader has been severely weakened by the number of GOP senators who defied him on the aid package.

McConnell’s support for Ukraine puts him in direct opposition to Trump. Last year, Trump said he could end the war in Ukraine in just one day if he was reelected, indicating he would push the US towards a more isolationist position.

The former president doubled down on this with a statement at a rally in South Carolina on February 11, where he declared he would refuse to support Nato members who failed to pay their way, and that he would encourage invading nations “to do whatever the hell they want”.

This is not a new position for Trump, who has regularly talked about pulling US support for Nato. But, as with his position on the Ukraine aid package, not all Republicans support his views.

Senator Josh Hawley, a staunch supporter of the former president, said that Trump was right to criticise those nations that did not pay 2% of their GDP towards the upkeep of Nato. But he added that the US should live up to its commitments and that if Russia “invaded a Nato country, we’d have to defend them”.

Unsurprisingly, Utah’s Republican Senator Mitt Romney, a long-time Trump critic, said on the Senate floor: “If we fail to help Ukraine, we will abandon our word and our commitment, proving to our friends a view that America cannot be trusted.”

It is too early to know whether – and to what extent – Trump is losing the support of some of the Republican party. But there definitely appears to be a division along foreign policy between the former president and some Senate Republicans.

What is clear is that the majority of those opposed to abandoning Ukraine – and who supported the bill through the Senate – are made up primarily of national security hawks and former veterans.

Now for the House

Even though the bill has passed the Democrat-controlled Senate, it will have an extremely tough time in getting through the GOP-controlled House of Representatives. McConnell has already reached out to the House speaker, Mike Johnson, to ensure that it will get a fair hearing, but there are questions about whether the bill will even reach the floor.

In an interview with US politics website Politico, McConnell asked Johnson to “allow the House to work its will on the issue of Ukraine aid”.

House Republicans have called the bill a “waste of time” and “dead on arrival” in the lower chamber. House support for the war in the Ukraine has fallen, especially as Republicans have begun to scrutinise the details of US assistance to Kyiv.

Johnson has declared that the bill will not even get a reading without sufficient provisions for security on the US southern border. “National security begins with border security,” he said. “We have said that all along. That has been my comment since late October, it is my comment today.”

Johnson’s refusal to get the bill on the floor of the House is understandable. House Republicans that oppose the bill believe that if it does get a reading then there is enough of a majority among moderates in both parties for it to pass. Republican representative Andy Biggs, a member of the Trump-supporting Freedom Caucustold one talk radio host: “If it were to get to the floor, it would pass.”

This is a not a sign that Trump’s influence on House Republicans is dwindling. But it shows there is still just enough bipartisan support for Ukraine for bills such as this to pass Congress.

Johnson is now at the centre of what will be a parliamentary issue. If he refuses to allow the bill to be read, then it may make it onto the floor through a “discharge petition” brought about by a bipartisan majority.

This is a mechanism by which matters can be brought before the House without the sponsorship of the majority leadership. It would undermine Johnson’s position as leader of the House and deeply divide the Republicans in an election year.

The Senate passing the bill is a small victory for the pro-Ukraine lobby – but there could be many twists and turns before it gets voted on in the House, if it does at all.

 is Teaching Fellow in International Security, University of Portsmouth.

This article was first published by The Conversation.

Image Credit: Shutterstock.