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Washington Wednesday: What’s the deal?

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WORLD Radio - Washington Wednesday: What’s the deal?

The Senate passes a foreign aid bill without including border security amendments


Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., after the Senate passed an emergency spending package yesterday Associated Press/Photo by J. Scott Applewhite

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Wednesday the 14th of February, 2024. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

LINDSAY MAST, HOST: And I’m Lindsay Mast. It’s time now for Washington Wednesday. 

The Senate has passed a foreign aid bill, but without the border deal Republicans wanted. Washington Bureau reporters Leo Briceno and Carolina Lumetta report on the bill and what it took to get there.

CHUCK SCHUMER: It’s been a long night, a long weekend, and a long few months. But a new day is here, and our efforts have been more than worth it.

LEO BRICENO: That’s Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer just minutes after he and his colleagues passed a 95.3 billion dollar aid package for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan.

CAROLINA LUMETTA: The White House, Democrats in the Senate—and even some Republican Senators—have been calling for action since Hamas first attacked Israel on October 7th. Here’s Senate Minority leader, Mitch McConnell.

MITCH MCCONNELL: We view all of these problems as connected. Ukraine is part of it, obviously Israel enjoys overwhelming support but we think also it's important that we make a part of it related to Asia and that’s Taiwan.

So why is the Senate just now getting around to a foreign aid package this week when it was evidently a priority for them at the end of last year? The answer to that question has three parts.

BRICENO: First, Republicans in the House of Representatives were not open to the idea of continuing to fund the war in Ukraine—at least not without a few strings attached. The U.S. has sent more than 75 billion dollars in aid towards Ukraine between 2022-2023, and the Ukrainians promised to use it for their Spring offensive to evict Russia from their country. But that conflict continues and so House Republicans in October wanted the White House to clarify America’s goals for the war in Ukraine. House Speaker Mike Johnson.

MIKE JOHNSON: What the Biden administration seems to be asking for is billions of additional dollars with no appropriate oversight, no clear strategy to win, and none of the answers that I think the American people are owed.

LUMETTA: Hamas’s attack on Israel on October 7th changed the conversation about foreign aid. President Joe Biden called on Congress to pass a $100 billion package to help Israel…and Ukraine. But where Republicans in the House wanted to focus on just Israel, the Senate made it clear it would only consider both: Israel and Ukraine together.

Speaker Johnson shot back that the House wouldn’t consider any Ukraine aid without also passing some sort of Southern border security package. So what started as a concern for Ukraine was then linked to Israel and both of those were coupled with a demand for border policy.

BRICENO: That’s where the second part of the story begins. The House of Representatives under Johnson has called for much stronger border policies. A group of senators worked behind the scenes to produce bipartisan border legislation so that they could finally go on and approve some Ukraine/Israel funding.

But when the Senate deal finally emerged, it wasn’t what Republicans had hoped to see. Many Republicans felt like Democrats were offering a border bait and switch to get Republicans onboard with foreign aid and immigration reform. Here’s Congressman Troy Nehls the day after the bill was made public.

TROY NEHLS: You would think at any point in time if you had a really rock-solid bill, you’d have it stand on its own, right? Bring a border bill like we did. If you had negotiated that bill over there, bipartisan, why don’t you bring it over here in and of itself? But you attach Ukraine to it. You know why they put Ukraine on there? Because they’re going to put Republicans in a difficult position. You’re putting ‘em in a trap is what you’re doing. 

Many Republicans in the House did, however, want some sort of room for compromise…including California Congressman John Duarte.

JOHN DUARTE: If there’s leadership—if there’s leadership from Joe Biden, the president of the United States. Or if there’s leadership from Donald Trump, to say “hey guys, I think this is what we ought to do.” …there’d be too many people in our party that’d be afraid to support it.

LUMETTA: That’s where the third part of this story comes in. Former President Donald Trump came out against the border deal days before negotiators released the text of the bill to the public. He called on Republicans in Congress to kill the bill, rather than compromise with Democrats.

DONALD TRUMP: As the leader of our party, there is zero chance I will support this horrible, open borders betrayal of America. It’s not going to happen and I’ll fight it all the way.

While the nominating convention is still months away, much of the Republican Party in Washington is treating Trump as the presumptive nominee. Democrats say this is why many are falling in line behind the former president as they expect Trump to return to the White House.

BRICENO: Some Senate Republicans have pushed back on this narrative, saying they opposed the deal because it contained bad border policy…not because Trump pressured them. But Senators who worked on the deal had a different story:

JAMES LANKFORD: Some of them have been very clear with me they have political differences with the bill.

That’s Oklahoma Senator James Lankford, the Republican negotiator who helped write the border bill.

LANKFORD: They say it’s the wrong time to solve the problem or to let the presidential election solve this problem.

LUMETTA: Trump has also used his campaign platform to rally support against most if not all Ukraine funding. He’s even renewed calls for the U.S. to rethink support for NATO if member countries in Europe fail to meet a recommended 2% defense appropriation of their budgets. Here’s Trump at a South Carolina rally on Sunday, recalling a conversation that took place during his presidency.

TRUMP: One of the presidents of a big country stood up and said, “Well, sir, if we don’t pay and we’re attacked by Russia, will you protect us?” I said, “You didn't pay? You're delinquent?” He said, “Yes, let's say that happened.” “No, I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever they want. You gotta pay. You gotta pay your bills.” 

That position isn’t as palatable for Republicans in the Senate, and over a dozen were willing to join Democrats and pass a foreign aid bill without border policy changes. Why? Well, some say it will cost America more in the long run not to help Ukraine, even if the price tag comes out to tens of billions of dollars in the short run. Here’s North Carolina Senator, Thom Tillis.

THOM TILLIS: A lot of people say we're sending 70 $80 billion to Ukraine. Really? Well last time I checked about half of it’s going to the military industrial base here to replace the inventories that we've sent to them to replace and to aid our modernization of our arsenal… I'm less concerned about Vladimir Putin than I am about China and our retreat from leading the Western world… But let's let this chamber be the chamber that stands with the free world. 

But the more conservative wing disagrees: they argue that Ukraine also has a corrupt government and the U.S. cannot afford to fund overseas wars that don’t directly affect domestic interests. Here’s Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri speaking on the floor on Tuesday night:

JOSH HAWLEY: I think doing it without oversight is a serious mistake. I think doing it in a way that seriously harms our position in the Pacific, which is our most important foreign policy challenge, it's a serious mistake. I think doing it before we secure our own border is a serious mistake.

LUMETTA: Also on Tuesday night, Ohio Sen. JD Vance joined a live discussion with Elon Musk, other senators, and former presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy on X. Vance says that the White House has failed to articulate a compelling strategy for ending the war in Ukraine.

JD VANCE: The argument for the strategy is that if we throw enough money and resources and weapons at Ukraine, they will somehow reach a point where the Russians are tired of fighting and will come to the negotiating table. If your explicit strategy is to wait Vladimir Putin out until he comes to the negotiating table when you are outmatched in manpower and weaponry, you're clinically insane.

Vance then joined Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul in a filibuster on Tuesday night. Paul was upset that the bill no longer included border security…as Republicans previously required.

RAND PAUL: We’re going to send to Ukraine more money than we spend on our own Marine Corps…Once the border bill failed and they decided this wasn’t really about the border, it was about Ukraine’s border. The American Firsters plowed on but with a more intellectually honest proposal: Nothing for America, everything for Ukraine.

BRICENO: Despite the overnight opposition, the foreign aid bill finally passed 70-29 early Tuesday morning. 22 Republicans joined 48 Democrats to greenlight it. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said this after the Senate sent the bill over to the House.

SCHUMER: And I call on Speaker Johnson to rise to the occasion, to do the right thing. Bring this bill to the floor…but if the hard right kills this bill, it would be an enormous gift to Vladimir Putin.

LUMETTA: House Speaker Mike Johnson has consistently said any bill without southern border security is dead on arrival. In a statement released Monday night, he said the Senate should have “gone back to the drawing board” rather than push the foreign aid package through.

BRICENO: If Johnson does not bring the bill to the floor for a vote, House lawmakers could technically force it through with a discharge petition. To do that, they’d need 218 signatures to bypass Johnson, And that’s something that’s unlikely. But in this Congress, not impossible.

That’s it for Washington Wednesday. Reporting for WORLD, I’m Leo Briceno.

And I’m Carolina Lumetta.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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