US senators set up showdown on deal for Ukraine aid and border crackdown

Top US senators unveiled a compromise bill that would renew US aid to Ukraine and tighten immigration rules at the southern border with Mexico, setting up a showdown in Congress that could shape both domestic and foreign policy under Joe Biden.

Chuck Schumer, leader of the Democratic majority in the upper chamber of Congress, released the text of the compromise legislation on Sunday after weeks of fraught negotiations over security assistance to both Ukraine and Israel, as well as the measures to crack down on immigration.

The move sets up a vote on the legislation as soon as this week. It will be the biggest test for Biden’s bid to provide billions of dollars in new security assistance to Kyiv, after the last round of funding ran out at the end of 2023.

The outcome is in the balance: in order to advance, the bill will need the support of 60 out of 100 senators, meaning a significant number of Republicans would have to join Democrats in backing the legislation.

But even if it passes the upper chamber, leaders of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives have signalled that they will refuse to take up the legislation, which is opposed by Donald Trump, the party’s likely nominee to challenge Biden in November. Instead, the House is planning a vote on $17.6bn in security aid for Israel alone, without any help for Ukraine.

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Biden and Democrats — as well as some Republicans — are still holding out hope that they can shift the political dynamic, and pressure will build on Mike Johnson, the House speaker, to call a vote on Ukraine aid too.

“I know we have our divisions at home but we cannot let partisan politics get in the way of our responsibilities as a great nation,” Biden said in a statement on Sunday.

But otherwise Ukraine aid — as well as tighter border measures — may not reach Biden’s desk for signature until at least late 2024 or early 2025. This would crush one of the president’s top foreign policy goals.

Washington will probably host a summit to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Nato in July having failed to secure another round of assistance for Kyiv, potentially handing an edge to Russia on the battlefield.

“It’s really hard to see how Ukraine aid gets through the House during the presidential primary season, and Trump will be the de facto nominee by the middle of next month” said Chris Krueger, a Washington-based policy analyst at Cowen.

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“It’s a really, really, really long putt.”

While Biden has had a remarkable record of legislative accomplishment during his time in the White House, often clinching deals on economic and budgetary measures after weeks of tough negotiations with both parties in Congress, he has struggled to do the same with Ukraine aid over the past year.

Many of the arguments put forward by Biden and other Democrats have fallen flat as opposition among Republicans has become increasingly entrenched, driven by Trump.

Biden and his allies on Capitol Hill, as well as many foreign policy experts in Washington, have tried to make the case that failure to help Ukraine would embolden Vladimir Putin and would entice China to invade Taiwan.

Biden also used a televised Oval Office address in October to the American people to argue that helping Ukraine was part of a broader effort to defend democracies friendly to America, including Israel in the wake of the Hamas attack.

And Democrats have repeatedly said that there could be economic benefits back home to ploughing billions of dollars of aid to US allies around the world.

But Biden’s last gambit has been to accept an aggressive tightening of immigration rules at the southern border, which Republicans have been demanding, in exchange for a sweeping security package including aid to Ukraine and Israel.

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While House Republican leaders are opposed to the deal, Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the Senate, has backed it. “America’s sovereignty is being tested here at home, and our credibility is being tested by emboldened adversaries around the world,” he said.

“The challenges we face will not resolve themselves, nor will our adversaries wait for America to muster the resolve to meet them.”

Biden’s allies in Congress have been making increasingly impassioned pleas for fellow lawmakers to support the plan.

“This vote will echo throughout the history of this country and the history of the world for generations, particularly if we fail to meet what I believe is a commitment to the people of Ukraine,” Angus King, the senator from Maine, said this week.

“If we back away, pull out, and leave the Ukrainians without the resources to defend themselves, it will compromise the interests of this country for 50 years. It will be viewed as one of the greatest geopolitical mistakes of the 21st century.”

as lawmakers prepare to vote on legislation pairing funding for Kyiv with a crackdown at the southern border with Mexico.