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Ukraine aid bill faces collapse in Senate as Biden makes final plea

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President Biden’s sweeping emergency spending measure to finance the war in Ukraine teetered on the brink of collapse in Congress on Wednesday as Republicans prepared to block it in the Senate over their demands to attach measures to it. unrelated to the crackdown on immigration to the United States.

As a critical vote approached late in the afternoon, Mr. Biden and Democrats on Capitol Hill made increasingly urgent pleas for Republicans to drop their opposition and allow the spending bill of 111 billion dollars advances. They warned that a refusal to do so would constitute a historic failure that would play into the hands of Russian President Vladimir V. Putin. The move would accelerate security assistance of about $50 billion to Ukraine and an additional $14 billion to Israel, as well as funds to counter threats in the Indo-Pacific region and fortify the border between the United States and Mexico.

Money for Ukraine, which will also receive a new infusion of economic and humanitarian aid, was by far the most important element of the legislation. It is also the main point of contention, with congressional Republicans increasingly opposing funding for the war effort there.

“Make no mistake: Today’s vote will long be remembered, and history will harshly judge those who turned their backs on the cause of freedom,” Mr. Biden said at the White House. He said Republicans were “prepared to literally bring Ukraine to its knees on the battlefield and harm our national security in the process.”

Mr. Biden said he was calling on Congress to “do the right thing,” adding: “Oppose Putin’s tyranny.” Defend freedom.

But Republicans, even those who have been ardent supporters of continued U.S. support for Ukraine’s war effort, appear unresponsive and unwilling to abandon their insistence on major immigration policy changes as the price to pay for additional help in Kiev.

“Apparently, some of our colleagues would rather let Russia trample a sovereign nation in Europe than do what it takes to enforce America’s sovereign borders,” Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, said on the Senate floor. and minority leader. “They are convinced that open borders are worth jeopardizing the security of the entire world. »

The near-certain abandonment of the legislation in the Senate meant that it was extremely unlikely that Ukraine would be able to secure additional U.S. aid before the end of the year — and perhaps beyond. President Mike Johnson, who told Senate leaders that a Ukraine bill without strict border control measures would not pass the Republican-led House, is unlikely to introduce a sweeping relief bill. emergency spending without Senate momentum.

Mr. Biden’s remarks punctuated a series of warnings from the Ukrainian administration and officials in recent days that, absent a new influx of funding from the United States, Ukraine will run out of money. weapons it needs to repel the Russian invasion by the end of the year. The fighting in Ukraine is largely at a stalemate, after a Ukrainian counter-offensive aimed at pushing back Russian forces largely failed to achieve its objectives.

But the grim assessments and urgent warnings did little to spur progress in the Senate, which turned into a finger-pointing arena Wednesday as Republicans and Democrats each sought to shift blame for the dire situation of Ukraine on their opponents.

“You can’t say ‘I’m for Ukraine, but only if I pass this completely independent policy,'” said Sen. Brian Schatz, Democrat of Hawaii, lambasting Republicans who try to capitalize on Ukraine’s plight. Ukraine to promote their restrictive immigration agenda. “You can’t stop Putin from taking over a country by force and then vote against providing Ukraine with the resources to do it. »

It appears highly unlikely that bipartisan negotiations in the Senate over border measures, which broke down over the weekend, will resume after the failed vote.

Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer made a last-ditch effort this week to get Republicans to vote for the measure, offering them the chance to try to attach their preferred border provisions as an amendment to the bill. of spending law. But they would need 60 votes to get there, meaning Democrats would have to join in supporting them, a distant prospect.

Mr. Biden also said he would be willing to make “significant compromises” on border provisions if Republicans supported funding for Ukraine. “We need to fix the broken border system,” he said. “She is broken.”

It’s “time for Republicans to bow or shut up,” Senator Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware, told reporters Wednesday, citing Mr. Schumer’s offer. “If we fail to reach a vote that supports our allies and partners in Ukraine, we will have failed at this moment in history. »

In a speech Wednesday, Mr. Schumer questioned whether Republicans were even interested in making a deal — or if the goal had always been to abandon Ukraine.

“Has the border just been an excuse for the hard right to defund Ukraine, and too many other non-hard right Republican senators are following suit? » said Mr. Schumer. “Because we don’t have much time to continue negotiating off the field if we’re just going around in circles.”

While most Senate Republicans still say they are in favor of arming Ukraine, that is no longer the case in the House, where a majority of Republicans have voted in recent months to cut the country’s U.S. aid programs. arms to this war-torn country. Mr Johnson has always opposed such measures.

As lawmakers continued to argue over funding, Ukraine’s alarmed leaders continued to issue a series of appeals for help — and look for ways to get around Congress’s inaction.

“The price of investments in Ukraine today is invariably the question of the price of sovereign self-defense of any democratic country,” Mykhailo Podolyak, senior adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, wrote on social media.

Mr Zelensky appealed to US defense companies, encouraging them to work directly with Ukraine to build a long-term relationship – and promising that kyiv would eventually repay the West by contributing to the security of others.

“Together we can create a new and powerful arsenal of freedom that will provide reliable support to all the free nations of the world,” he said in a video speech at an arms industry summit organized by the Ministry of Commerce. “Ukraine aspires and is capable of becoming a security donor to all its neighbors once it has ensured its own security. »

In a speech at the same event, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III pledged to stay in the fight against Ukraine, despite discord over funding for such endeavors in Congress.

“Together with our allies and partners, I am confident that we have everything we need to help our Ukrainian friends continue their long-term struggle for sovereignty,” Austin said.

Pierre Boulanger reports contributed.

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nytimes

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