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Updated Feb 6, 2024, 7:50pm EST
politics

The border deal is dead. What now for Ukraine aid?

Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images
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The News

U.S. lawmakers are debating how to quickly approve more urgent funding for Ukraine as it defends against a near two-year Russian invasion, after the swift collapse of a border security agreement that was meant to unlock more aid to Kyiv in a divided Congress.

After acknowledging defeat of the bipartisan Senate border security agreement, Republicans supportive of Ukraine aid started to suggest that the chamber move forward with a package that only includes aid for Ukraine and Israel and money to counter China in the Asia Pacific.

“We still, in my view, ought to tackle the rest of it because it’s important. Not that the border isn’t important but we can’t get an outcome,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. said. He acknowledged that the decision will ultimately fall to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “to decide how to repackage this.”

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Neither Schumer nor the White House have said what their plans are for the foreign assistance if a Wednesday vote on the broader package that also includes border security fails, as is expected. A standalone Israel aid bill pushed by House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La. failed in the House Tuesday.

“We are discussing the procedural options we have assuming we lose the vote tomorrow, what we can do shortly thereafter to keep this moving forward,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Ben Cardin, D-Md. told Semafor on Tuesday. “We’re not going to give up. We have to get the package done.”

Cardin acknowledged that splitting off the foreign aid would be considered. “It’s urgent,” he said of Ukraine assistance. “We don’t have the luxury of time to try to sort this out.”

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Even if the Senate acts, Ukraine support faces an uncertain fate in the House. Johnson said Tuesday that the chamber hadn’t abandoned the idea of passing Ukraine aid but that he wanted more answers from the White House on the “end game” for the war and accountability for funding sent to Kyiv.

The Biden administration requested $60 billion in military and economic aid for Ukraine last October, and the White House is warning that the Ukrainians are rationing their ammunition due to uncertainty over future U.S. support. “The time is now,” White House national security spokesman John Kirby told reporters. “They need this stuff now.”

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Morgan’s view

Washington is back to square one — after all, it was Republicans who insisted on attaching border security reforms as a condition of providing Kyiv more assistance. So what now?

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Ukraine aid will face some Republican resistance in the Senate. “I’m not a fan of spending $60 billion more on Ukraine without any serious oversight and accounting,” Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., who has argued the U.S. should focus instead on Asia and threats from China, told me.

But the real test comes in the House, where a large slice of Republicans are on the record voting against Ukraine aid. It’s possible that Ukraine supporters will have new leverage in the chamber, however, after Johnson failed to pass Israel aid on its own following a veto threat from President Biden.

The difference between now and almost four months ago, when the White House first requested billions more for Ukraine, is that Kyiv is feeling the effects of the lapse in funding on the battlefield. February 24 will mark two years since the full-scale Russian invasion, and the two sides don’t look anywhere close to peace negotiations.

“They’ve already started to ration their artillery shells, for example, and ration their antiaircraft missiles, their air defense missiles,” former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor, who recently returned to Washington from Ukraine, told me. “And we’re starting to see the Russians start to make some progress on the ground because the Ukrainians are rationing their artillery shells, and we’re seeing a lower amount of the incoming Russian missiles, bombs, ballistic missiles, a lower percentage being knocked down than in previous times because they are running out.”

The urgency could lead the Biden administration and Democrats to compromise on aspects of the funding request, such as the level of funding for military funding versus economic and humanitarian support. Former Trump national security adviser Robert O’Brien told me last week that he believed House Republicans would pass a Ukraine aid bill that includes only military aid.

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The View From Ukraine

Ukrainian member of parliament Maria Mezentseva told Semafor she is still optimistic about the path forward, despite the collapse of the border security agreement, and insisted Ukraine needed the full $60 billion in funding requested — not just a piece of it.

“I think it’s doable still,” she said.

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