Senate passes aid bill for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan with Ron Johnson voting no, Tammy Baldwin yes

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WASHINGTON – The Senate late Tuesday passed a $95 billion package to provide aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, marking the final approval from Congress after months of delays and debate over the United States' support for its allies.

Wisconsin's congressional delegation was divided over the legislation. In the Senate, Republican Sen. Ron Johnson voted against the measure, citing lack of border security policy and his opposition to additional aid to Ukraine, while Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin joined the majority in approving the package. It passed on an 79-18 vote.

President Joe Biden promptly signed the bill into law Wednesday morning.

The legislation would provide $60.8 billion in aid to Ukraine in its war with Russia; $26.3 billion to Israel as it battles Hamas, including about $9 billion in global humanitarian assistance; and just over $8 billion for Taiwan and the Indo-Pacific in an effort to deter China's threat to the region.

It also included provisions from House Republicans to impose sanctions on Iran and Russia, seize frozen Russian assets and legislation from Wisconsin Rep. Mike Gallagher that could result in a U.S. ban of the video sharing app Tik Tok.

Tuesday's vote was the final hurdle for the proposal that supporters have said is critical to protecting both U.S. national security and allies abroad. The House on Saturday approved the individual aid packages on overwhelmingly bipartisan votes despite failing to act on the foreign aid due to opposition from some on the right, and the legislation was packaged together and sent to the Senate.

Still, the supplemental foreign aid has faced pushback from a number of lawmakers in both chambers. Republicans like Johnson, Wisconsin's senior senator, have derided the bill for failing to address the U.S.-Mexico border. And Johnson has for months rejected supplying more military aid to Ukraine, claiming Russian President Vladimir Putin will not lose the war and suggesting further aid will only contribute to a "bloody stalemate."

"I don’t like to see the Ukrainian people being used as cannon fodder in a proxy war between the West and Russia," Johnson told reporters in Madison on Monday. "I think that’s what this has devolved into. I don’t want to spend $60 billion of money we don’t have to fuel a bloody stalemate. We need to do everything we can from a strategic standpoint to figure out how to end this war.”

He told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel before the vote: "When the $60 billion is gone, we'll be pretty much in the same position except more Ukrainians, more Russians will be killed and more Ukrainian territory is going to be destroyed."

Some progressives like Wisconsin Rep. Mark Pocan, meanwhile, have opposed sending offensive weapons to Israel over concerns about the growing civilian death toll in Gaza. Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders said Saturday said he opposed "unfettered offensive aid to the extremist Israeli government."

Baldwin, a Madison Democrat, in recent months has called for a permanent ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas. She's supported Israel’s right to defend itself but has been critical of the country's response in Gaza. Last month, she joined colleagues in urging the Biden administration to detail a path for the U.S. to “recognize a nonmilitarized Palestinian state."

On Tuesday, Baldwin told the Journal Sentinel she felt there were sufficient "conditions and safeguards" to send offensive weaponry to Israel, though she added she "would probably wish for some more." She cited Leahy Laws, which prohibit the government from funding militaries or groups implicated in flagrant human rights violations, and referenced a memorandum Biden issued this year saying countries that receive U.S. weapons must adhere to international law.

The vote also came amid large pro-Palestinian student protests at universities including Columbia in New York and Yale in Connecticut. Students protesting the U.S.'s support for Israel have been arrested at both schools, and Biden warned of an "alarming surge of antisemitism" following the demonstrations at Columbia.

Asked about the protests and how the universities were handling them, Baldwin said only: "In general, we have the First Amendment that protects free speech. But we also need to protect people from harm and discrimination. It's a balance that's really important."

In the end, the foreign aid package won support from the majority of Congress as leaders from both parties lined up behind it. House Speaker Mike Johnson put the Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan aid to a vote despite threats of an ouster attempt by a faction of lawmakers on his far right opposed to additional Ukrainian assistance. And both Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, expressed an urgency to pass the bill on Tuesday.

"Delay in providing Ukraine the weapons to defend itself has strained the prospects of defeating Russian aggression," McConnell said on the Senate floor Tuesday. "Dithering and hesitation have compounded the challenges we face."

McConnell added: "I will not mince words when members of my own party take the responsibilities of American leadership lightly. Today, the Senate faces a test, and we must not fail it."

Johnson, an Oshkosh Republican, said this week he "certainly" supports Israel and called the missile and drone attacks from Iran this month "a real shot across the bow." But he took issue with the billions of dollars in global humanitarian assistance in the legislation — a key provision for Democrats — and said he thought that money would fall into the hands of Hamas militants, not Palestinian civilians in Gaza.

And while the Wisconsin senator has for much of the current Congress been in touch with members of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, he dismissed threats from some in the group to oust Speaker Johnson as unhelpful.

"Speaker Johnson is in an almost impossible situation with such a slender (majority)," Johnson said. "At some point in time, you can’t be the only person that holds back what the body you’re speaker of wants to do something else. I’m sympathetic to his position.”

Instead, he leveled his criticisms at McConnell for the lack of border security funding in the bill, though Johnson and other Republicans killed a bipartisan effort to pass stringent immigration policy earlier this year.

“From my standpoint, it was Leader McConnell that blew the leverage we had to make sure that we secure America’s border before we spend more than $100 billion helping other countries secure theirs," Johnson said.

Jessie Opoien of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Senate passes sweeping foreign aid bill with Ron Johnson opposed