COMPASS: Ukraine aid moves through the Senate

February 14th, 2024

Good afternoon from Capitol Hill.

Early Tuesday morning the Senate passed its $95.3 billion foreign aid bill, which sends money to Ukraine, Taiwan, Israel, and to U.S. conflicts in the Red Sea. Despite early commitments by Senate Republicans to only fund Ukraine’s border after we had secured our own, the bill passed without any border reform after the deeply flawed package negotiated by Sens. James Lankford and Mitch McConnell was soundly rejected by their conference.

The Senate’s conservatives, led by Sens. Mike Lee, Rand Paul, JD Vance, Eric Schmitt, and others, used their procedural rights to forestall quick consideration of the bill. They kept the Senate in session all weekend and all Monday night while they stood on their feet, making the case against the legislation which polling consistently demonstrates is unpopular among conservative voters.

And their efforts bore fruit. Despite Sen. Mitt Romney’s claim that the bill represented “the most important vote senators will ever take,” and Sen. Mitch McConnell’s assertion that the war in Ukraine was the “number one priority for the United States . . . according to most Republicans,” only 22 of the Senate’s 49 Republicans joined Democrats in passing the bill – less than half of the Senate Republican conference.

Senate conservatives have long complained that their leadership has a talent for picking issues that unite Democrats and divide Republicans, and that modus operandi was once again on display this week. The majority of the Senate GOP conference opposed the bill – but the majority of their elected leadership (Sens. McConnell, Thune, Ernst, and Capito) all voted for it. 

It’s a striking demonstration of the layers of detachment that exist within the Senate GOP: the leadership is out of step with their base voters and the positions of the party’s marquee candidates, and on this vote at least, fail to represent the positions of the majority of the conference they lead.

This was also evident in the sentiments that emerged from the debate. GOP Leader Mitch McConnell suggested that those senators who disagree with him have views that are “dim” and “shortsighted,” that they possess “idle minds,” and that their views have “no place in the United States Senate.” Sen. Thom Tillis echoed his points, suggesting that voters who disapprove of the bill could be ignored because they are simply not as informed as a “well-briefed U.S. senator.”

Sen. Tillis later took his fight to the Senate floor, defending himself for appearing to suggest that congressional opponents of the legislation do not deserve the ability to amend it. Tillis attempted to make the argument that conservative senators were blocking amendments, which was immediately rebutted in real time when Sen. Mike Lee’s request to have all amendments – Republican and Democrat – be made in order was denied by Senate Democrats.

The bill now goes to the House, where Speaker Mike Johnson has declared it effectively dead-on-arrival. “In the absence of having received any single border policy change from the Senate, the House will have to continue to work its own will on these important matters,” Johnson said. “America deserves better than the Senate’s status quo.”

A day after Speaker Johnson made that statement, Sen. Mitch McConnell urged him to bring up the bill anyway. Meanwhile, McConnell’s staff are emailing colleagues sharing op-eds that refer to the group which deposed former House Speaker McCarthy as the “Knucklehead Caucus” and urging the Speaker to make “sacrifices” to get the bill through.

 What Johnson ultimately does remains to be seen, but congressmen like Rep. Chip Roy, who called the Senate bill a product of the “Senate Defense Contractor Caucus,” appear ready to enforce the Speaker’s commitment. Meanwhile, the House yesterday voted affirmatively to impeach Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas – who also served as the Senate GOP’s primary negotiating partner in their failed border security deal.

The House now moves toward reauthorizing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a key weapon abused by the left to set up the “Russia collusion” scandal. However, it is unclear if enough reforms will be added to stop this from happening again. 

The Latest From Around The Conservative Movement

  • Sen. JD Vance circulated a memo to the Congress detailing how the Senate’s foreign aid bill is an “impeachment time bomb” for the next Trump presidency. Former Trump OMB Director Russ Vought agrees.

In Case You Missed It…

A must-read inside account of how the border and Ukraine deliberations went down within the GOP conference, from Sen. JD Vance.