In a surprising turn of events surrounding Ukraine, Democrats find themselves both angry and perplexed. Senate Republicans blocked a crucial funding package aimed at supporting Ukraine in its struggle against the Russian invasion. Their demand for stringent new controls along the southern border in exchange for approving the supplemental funding has added to the frustration of Democrats.
Chuck Schumer, the leading Democrat in the Senate, expressed his disappointment on the Senate floor, labeling it as “a sad night in the history of the Senate” and warning against allowing Vladimir Putin a free hand in Ukraine and Europe.
Schumer criticized Republicans for obstructing a vital proposal encompassing funding for Ukraine and Israel, humanitarian aid for civilians in Gaza, and support for the Indo-Pacific. He emphasized the need for seriousness in addressing the current situation.
The vote, ending 49-51, reflects a concerning trend in Congress that poses a challenge for the White House. Initially, when Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, bipartisan support for aiding Kyiv was evident. However, over time, an increasing number of Republican lawmakers have shifted away from supporting aid to Ukraine, aligning with Donald Trump’s “America first” foreign policy approach. In September, when the House voted on a $300 million bill for training and equipping Ukrainian fighters, a majority of Republicans (117 members) opposed it.
The changing dynamics in Congress, with Republicans now holding a narrow majority in the House, have empowered them to link supplemental funding for Ukraine with robust border security measures. This shift in stance has become a source of contention, as many of these security measures are unappealing to Democrats.
The current standoff occurs at a critical juncture in Ukraine’s conflict with Russia. The White House has cautioned that the US, facing financial constraints and running out of time, must act swiftly to aid Ukraine or the Russian military is poised to make further gains in the war without additional funding for Kyiv.
Efforts to reach a compromise on border measures, crucial for advancing the aid package, have been ongoing between Democrats and Republicans. However, these negotiations hit a roadblock over the weekend. Joe Biden expressed his anger with Republicans’ alleged lack of readiness to reach a bipartisan deal on Wednesday by accusing them of engaging in bad faith negotiations. “Republicans believe that they can achieve their objectives without bipartisan compromise,” Biden stated.That’s not the solution. And now, they’re willing to hinder Ukraine on the battlefield, jeopardizing our national security in the process.”
Despite this strong rhetoric, Republicans have presented a unified front in pushing for more stringent changes to immigration policy. Even those supportive of additional aid for Ukraine, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, have embraced this position. McConnell, along with 48 Republican colleagues, opposed the motion to advance the aid package on Wednesday, rejecting Schumer’s call to “get serious” about threats to democracy.
McConnell argued, “It is profoundly unserious to ignore securing our nation’s borders when discussing national security priorities. Warning about endangered borders should begin with the one being overrun at home. I don’t need lectures on the gravity of today’s national security challenges.”
This impasse has both angered and puzzled Democrats. They view providing financial aid to US allies like Ukraine as benefiting the entire nation and expect it to be an area of common ground. However, recent negotiations have cast Ukraine aid as a Democratic priority achievable only through concessions on immigration, a shift that has not gone unnoticed by frustrated Democrats on Capitol Hill.
Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, expressed his intent to link funding for Ukraine with the passage of an assault weapons ban, stating, “I think I’m going to demand that either we enact a ban on assault weapons or I stop funding Ukraine. I guess that’s how things get done around here,” as conveyed to HuffPost.
Despite the evident frustration, President Biden signaled a willingness to continue negotiations on Wednesday. He expressed his readiness to make “significant compromises on the border” in order to advance the aid package. Senate Minority Leader McConnell described the unsuccessful vote as “a fresh opportunity for making substantive advancement on policy which tackles urgent national security priorities.”
On Wednesday, Senator Schumer signaled his willingness to resume talks even as he urged Republicans to put up meaningful alternatives to the radical measures that have been put forth thus far. He emphasized the gravity of the situation, stating, “This is a serious moment that will have lasting consequences for the 21st century. If Ukraine falls, Putin will not stop there. He will be encouraged. If we aren’t prepared to stand up for Western democracy, it will start to deteriorate. The Republican party and this Senate need to get more serious.”