Rand Paul stops $40 billion in aid to Ukraine by denying unanimous consent in Senate

Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul defied leaders of both parties Thursday and delayed Senate approval of an additional $40 billion to help until next week. Ukraine and his allies resist the three-month Russian invasion.

With the Senate ready to debate and vote on the military and economic aid package, Paul denied the leaders the unanimous agreement they needed to proceed. The bipartisan move, backed by President Joe Biden, underscores America’s determination to bolster its support for Ukraine’s outnumbered forces.

The legislation has overwhelmingly passed the House and has strong bipartisan support in the Senate. The final passage is not in doubt.

Still, Paul’s objection was a departure from overwhelming sentiment in Congress in favor of helping Ukraine quickly, as it struggles to resist Vladimir Putin’s brutal invasion and tries to dissuade him from escalating the war.

It was also a rebellion against his fellow Republican from Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who on Thursday had called on “both sides” to “help us pass this urgent funding bill today.”

Paul, a libertarian who often opposes US intervention abroad, said he wanted language inserted into the bill, without a vote, that would have an inspector general review the new spending. It has a long history of demanding last-minute changes by delaying or threatening to delay bills that were about to pass, including measures related to lynchings, Russia sanctions, preventing a federal shutdown, the defense budget, government surveillance and medical attention to the first responders of the 9/11 attack.

Democrats and McConnell opposed Paul’s push and offered to vote on his language. Paul would likely lose that vote and reject the offer.

Paul, who unsuccessfully sought his party’s presidential nomination in 2016, argued that the additional spending was more than the United States spends on many domestic programs, was comparable to Russia’s entire defense budget, and would deepen federal deficits and worsen inflation. Last year’s budget deficit was nearly $2.8 trillion, but it’s likely to go down, and bill spending is less than 0.2% of the size of the US economy, suggesting that its impact on inflation would be negligible.

“No matter how sympathetic the cause, my oath of office is for the national security of the United States of America,” Paul said. “We cannot save Ukraine by dooming the US economy.”

Democrats said they opposed Paul’s plan because it would expand the powers of an existing inspector general whose current remit is limited to Afghanistan. That would deny Biden the opportunity previous presidents have had to make an appointment to the job, they said.

“It’s clear from the comments of the young senator from Kentucky that he doesn’t want to help Ukraine,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York. “All he will accomplish by his actions here today is delay that help, not stop it.”

Schumer and McConnell stood almost side by side as they tried to push through the legislation.

“They’re just asking for the resources they need to defend against this crazy invasion,” McConnell said of the Ukrainians. “And they need this help right now.”

The House voted 368-57 on Tuesday to approve the measure. All Democrats and most Republicans backed it, although all the negative votes came from the Republican Party.

Bipartisan support for Ukraine has been fueled in part by accounts of Russian atrocities against Ukrainian civilians that have been impossible to ignore. It also reflects strategic concerns about letting Putin seize European territory unanswered as his assault on his neighbor to the west reaches its 12th week.

“Aiding Ukraine is not an example of mere philanthropy,” McConnell said. “It directly impacts the national security and vital interests of the United States if Russia’s overt aggression is unsuccessful and carries significant costs.”

Biden administration officials have said they expect the latest relief measure to last until September. But with Ukraine suffering heavy military and civilian losses and no idea when the fighting might end, Congress will ultimately face decisions on how much additional aid to provide at a time of huge US budget deficits and a risk of recession that could require an additional expense at home.

The latest bill, when added to the $13.6 billion passed by Congress in March, would push US aid to the region well above $50 billion. For perspective, that would add up to $6 billion more than the United States spent on military and economic aid worldwide in 2019, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.

The push toward approval came as Russia continued to attack Ukrainian forces and cities in the southern and eastern parts of the country. Reflecting international concerns sparked by the assault, Finland’s leaders announced their support for joining NATO, and Sweden appeared not to be far behind.

Mr. Biden asked Congress for $33 billion two weeks ago. It didn’t take long for lawmakers to add $3.4 billion to their requests for military and humanitarian programs.

The move includes $6 billion for Ukraine for intelligence, equipment and training for its forces, plus $4 billion in funding to help kyiv and NATO allies develop their armed forces.

There is $8.7 billion for the Pentagon to rebuild weapons stockpiles it has shipped to Ukraine and $3.9 billion for US troops in the region.

The measure also includes $8.8 billion to keep the kyiv government running, more than $5 billion to provide food to countries around the world that depend on fighting-ravaged Ukrainian crops, and $900 million to teach English and provide other services. to Ukrainian refugees who have moved. to the United States.

The biggest hurdle to quickly passing aid was overcome this week when Biden and Democrats dropped their demand to include billions more in the measure to bolster US efforts to counter the coronavirus pandemic. Republicans want separate COVID-19 legislation to be a battleground for an election-season fight over immigration that divides Democrats.

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