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The US Senate is poised to approve a $95bn national security funding bill including new aid to Ukraine, but the legislation risks languishing in the House of Representatives due to opposition from Donald Trump.
The final vote on the bill is expected in the Senate early on Tuesday following weeks of pressure from the Biden administration and a deepening rift among Republican senators on the merits of providing additional assistance to Ukraine and America’s role in the world.
Proponents of the aid package — including the White House, most Democrats and traditional Republicans — have argued that abandoning Ukraine could lead to Russian gains on the battlefield and embolden China to invade Taiwan.
But critics of the legislation, including former president Donald Trump, have questioned the need for any aid bill for Ukraine, saying domestic priorities were more important.
The stand-off on Capitol Hill has highlighted how Trump, the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination in this year’s presidential election, has tightened his grip on the party in the realm of foreign policy.
Last weekend, Trump suggested during a campaign rally in South Carolina that he would allow Russia to do “whatever the hell they want” to Nato allies if they fail to increase their defence spending. This triggered a backlash within the transatlantic alliance, but most Republicans declined to criticise him.
Trump’s influence on the Republican party has extended to some lawmakers who are known to be national security hawks but are now hesitant about endorsing a large foreign security aid package. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican senator, has instead embraced a proposal floated on social media by Trump to deliver loans instead of grants to its allies including Ukraine.
“A loan on friendly terms allows America, who is deeply in debt, a chance to get our money back and changes the paradigm of how we help others. President Trump is right to insist that we think outside the box,” Graham said.
Republicans have long insisted that senators include provisions tightening immigration policy at the southern border with Mexico in any foreign aid package, but after such a deal was negotiated, they balked at the compromise because it was opposed by the former president. Senators then returned to the current version of the bill with foreign aid to Ukraine, Israel, Gaza and Taiwan, but without any border measures.
Mike Johnson, the Republican speaker of the House who is close to Trump, suggested the legislation would struggle to gain traction in the lower chamber, which would also need to approve it before it can be enacted by President Joe Biden.
“In the absence of having received any single border policy change from the Senate, the House will have to continue to work its own will on these important matters. America deserves better than the Senate’s status quo,” Johnson said in a statement late on Monday.
JD Vance, the Republican senator from Ohio, gave a speech blasting the US foreign policy establishment that had driven American military involvement in Vietnam and the Middle East over the past 60 years.
“Now, those experts have a new crusade. Now those experts have a new thing that American taxpayers must fund and must fund indefinitely. And it is called the conflict in Ukraine,” Vance said.
But the White House, many congressional Democrats and some remaining Republican proponents of Ukraine aid have been outraged by how the legislation has been stymied so far.
“It is a downpayment for the survival of Western democracy and the survival of American values,” said Chuck Schumer, the Senate majority leader. “Nothing — nothing — would make Putin happier right now than to see Congress waver in its support for Ukraine. Nothing would help him more on the battlefield.”