US Lawmakers Still Negotiating Ukraine Aid Deal as Holidays Near

The U.S. Congress is running out of time to pass a new aid package for Ukraine, as Senate lawmakers worked through the weekend to negotiate a deal for border security funding in return for Republican votes.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer acknowledged on the Senate floor Monday that the negotiations would take time.

“Everyone knows that something should be done to fix our broken immigration system, but we can’t do so by compromising our values. Finding the middle ground is exceptionally hard, and both sides must accept that they will have to make concessions. And it’s going to take some more time to get it done,” Schumer said.

On the Senate floor Monday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “Senate Republicans will not make up for others showing up late to the table by waiving our responsibility to carefully negotiate and review any agreement before voting on it,” alluding to Republicans’ criticism that the White House got involved in negotiations at a late stage.

McConnell also kept the timeline for a possible vote open beyond the holidays.

“I am encouraged by our colleagues’ commitment to keep making steady progress in their negotiations over the coming week and beyond,” he said.

The United States has already dedicated more than $100 billion to arming and supporting Ukraine since Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022, and President Joe Biden has asked Congress to approve another $60 billion. However, Republicans in Congress have become increasingly skeptical about the need to continue underwriting Ukraine’s defense.

In recent weeks, Republicans in the Senate have conditioned approval of any additional money for Ukraine on the simultaneous strengthening of immigration rules aimed at reducing the number of people entering the U.S. at its southern border and expelling some who are already in the country.

A small group of lawmakers from the two parties, along with representatives from the Biden administration, are trying to hammer out an agreement that can gain enough support from both sides to protect it from that body’s various legislative pitfalls.

The U.S. Senate had been scheduled to hold its last day in session for this year last Thursday but adjusted the schedule to allow for time for further negotiations. The House of Representatives went out of session for the rest of the year but could be called back to vote if a deal is reached.

As of Monday morning, lawmakers still had not agreed on legislation and a vote appeared increasingly unlikely.

House wants more

Even if an agreement passes in the Senate, it likely would not survive in the House, where Republicans hold a very narrow majority. A significant group of Republican House members opposes additional aid to Ukraine, and the party recently voted out a speaker who partnered with Democrats to pass legislation.

FILE - Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., meets with reporters at the Capitol in Washington, Nov. 14, 2023.

FILE – Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., meets with reporters at the Capitol in Washington, Nov. 14, 2023.

House Speaker Mike Johnson, who took over after predecessor Kevin McCarthy was ousted, has said that more funding for the border is essential to any Ukrainian aid package; however, he also wants more conditions placed on the aid.

“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,” he said this week.

EU aid blocked; Putin celebrates

Worries about continued U.S. funding for Ukraine sharpened Friday after another key source of support was shut down. With the European Union considering a package of aid worth more than $50 billion, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban used his veto to scuttle the plan.

Orban’s vote came just a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin publicly celebrated the fact that Ukraine appears to be losing support in the West.

FILE - Russian President Vladimir Putin attends his annual news conference in Moscow, Dec. 14, 2023.

FILE – Russian President Vladimir Putin attends his annual news conference in Moscow, Dec. 14, 2023.

“Ukraine today produces nearly nothing; they are trying to preserve something, but they don’t produce practically anything themselves and bring everything in for free,” he said, according to The Associated Press. “But the freebies may end at some point and apparently it’s coming to an end little by little.”

While opponents of aid to Ukraine often denigrate aid packages as being a “blank check” handed over to the Ukrainian government, most of the aid is in the form of military hardware. The dollar figures in the aid packages mostly represent money spent in the U.S. to pay arms manufacturers for the equipment the U.S. ships to Ukraine.

There is little doubt that a significant delay in additional funding from the U.S. would adversely impact Ukraine on the battlefield, but experts differed on the question of how long it would take before the effects become apparent.

“My current understanding is that there’s sufficient money remaining in the presidential drawdown authority for the Biden administration to continue sending arms to Ukraine for several more weeks, so into January,” said Nicholas Lokker, a research associate in the Center for a New American Security’s Transatlantic Security Program. “Once you start getting into January, the money is going to start running out.”

Lokker said that Ukraine is already experiencing shortages of artillery shells and air defense munitions, and that a cutoff or significant delay in aid from the U.S. would exacerbate those shortages.

The U.S. Congress is facing a time crunch to pass a new aid package for Ukraine. Senate lawmakers are negotiating a deal for border security funding in exchange for Republican votes. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer acknowledged that finding a middle ground would take time. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also kept the timeline for a possible vote open beyond the holidays. The United States has already dedicated over $100 billion to supporting Ukraine since Russia’s invasion in 2022, and President Joe Biden has requested another $60 billion. However, Republicans in Congress are increasingly skeptical about continuing to fund Ukraine’s defense. Republicans in the Senate have conditioned approval of additional funding on strengthening immigration rules. A small group of lawmakers from both parties, along with representatives from the Biden administration, are trying to reach an agreement that can gain enough support from both sides. As of Monday morning, lawmakers had not agreed on legislation, and a vote seemed unlikely. Even if an agreement passes in the Senate, it would likely not survive in the House, where Republicans hold a narrow majority. House Speaker Mike Johnson has said that more funding for the border is essential to any Ukrainian aid package, but he also wants more conditions placed on the aid. Furthermore, worries about continued U.S. funding for Ukraine increased after Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban used his veto to block a European Union aid package. Russian President Vladimir Putin celebrated the fact that Ukraine appears to be losing support in the West. Delays in additional funding from the U.S. could adversely impact Ukraine on the battlefield, with shortages of artillery shells and air defense munitions already being experienced.

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