Senate passes Ukraine aid after marathon talking filibuster by conservatives

The Senate passed a $95 billion foreign aid bill early Tuesday morning over the loud objections of conservatives opposed to its funding for Ukraine.

After a rare all-night session and GOP-led talking filibuster, 22 Republicans joined most Democrats in a 70-29 vote at 6:38 a.m. to send the defense spending package to an uncertain future in the House. Three senators who caucus with Democrats voted against the package, which also funds Israel’s war against Hamas: Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Peter Welch (D-VT), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR).

“It’s been a long night, a long weekend, a long few months,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said in celebratory floor remarks after the passage, urging the House to take up the legislation. “But a new day is here and our efforts have been more than worth it.”

Schumer hoped to pass the bill last week, an aggressive timeline that would have required the consent of all 100 senators. However, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), one of the most vocal isolationists in the Senate, stood in the way.


Paul led a series of delay tactics on the Senate floor along with Republicans aligned with President Donald Trump who called on the Senate to end foreign giveaways unless aid is structured as a loan.

The gambit forced the Senate to stay in session through the weekend as Schumer jumped through a series of procedural hurdles that cut into the chamber’s President’s Day recess.

Paul, along with a band of Senate conservatives, capped off the blockade with a marathon of speeches designed to filibuster the bill.

But Schumer was finally able to break their hold in the early hours of Tuesday morning after the senators exhausted their floor time. The bill’s ultimate passage happened just in time for members to depart for the Munich Security Conference.

The vote follows weeks of GOP infighting over the defense legislation, which provides assistance for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan, as well as replenishes the U.S. military with weapon systems that were sent to help foreign allies.

The Ukraine portion, in particular, has proved controversial as conservatives question the wisdom of continuing to fund a war with Russia that has settled into a stalemate.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), an outspoken defender of Ukraine aid, attempted to overcome those objections by demanding a major concession from Democrats: “credible” policy changes at the southern border.

But conservatives rejected the eventual compromise, negotiated between the Senate and White House, as a “fig leaf” that granted President Joe Biden political cover without actually solving the border crisis.

A majority of Republicans blocked the bill, sending the Senate back to square one after four months of painstaking negotiations.

The Senate ultimately decided to strip the border provisions from the defense bill, causing an uproar among conservatives who wanted McConnell to negotiate a stricter deal rather than walk away entirely.

Senate leadership will be unable to ignore the demands of Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA), however, who proved instrumental to killing the border deal in the first place.

Johnson released a statement on Monday evening, hours before the Ukraine bill passed the Senate, that effectively killed any hope the legislation will be taken up by the House, at least in its current form. He demanded that border security be added back to any assistance package for Ukraine.

“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.

Johnson has not foreclosed the possibility of ushering the aid through the lower chamber. He has previously pledged to stand by Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression.

But his Monday statement has made the path for further aid more uncertain.

Johnson has already demanded a public articulation of the president’s exit strategy for the war in Ukraine as it enters its third year, and it’s possible the defense bill will need to be pared down to make it through the House.

The Senate removed billions in direct assistance to the government of Ukraine, but other pots of money, such as humanitarian aid for Gaza, will surely come under scrutiny by Republicans.

It’s also unclear whether the speaker will continue his insistence that the bill be broken up into separate pieces.

The White House has shown some flexibility on the border component itself, agreeing to new restrictions on asylum and parole in the Senate deal. Any hope for the aid may depend on Biden’s willingness to negotiate further, though he won’t go as far as accepting H.R. 2, the House’s flagship border bill.