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What Will Democrats Give Up to Get More Aid for Ukraine?



Chuck Schumer and other Democrats really want to help Zelenskyy.
Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

For the White House, most congressional Democrats, and even a majority of Senate Republicans, the must-do legislative list as Congress enters a turbulent November includes aid to Israel, Ukraine, and Taiwan, on top of other priorities including — oh yeah — keeping the federal government operating.

Kevin McCarthy’s successor, House Speaker Mike Johnson, responded to this agenda of urgent needs by whipping a measure through the House that simply provided some fresh money for Israel, ignoring all the other priorities. To make clear his conference’s lack of seriousness, he wrapped the bill tightly in a poison pill that rescinded money designed to help the IRS catch wealthy tax cheats and thereby significantly reduce the federal budget deficit. To say this legislation, in its scope and its composition, was dead on arrival is an understatement.

And so in the Senate, the congressional chamber closer to reality, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have begun the process of decorating a legislative Christmas tree that can secure the 60 votes necessary to break an expected Republican filibuster and get a bill over to the House where its fate will depend on complex factors too numerous to name. In theory, the two Senate leaders are on the same page, particularly in terms of the Ukraine aid that is increasingly unpopular among MAGA folk. But McConnell is perfectly willing to exploit the situation by insisting on provisions (particularly with respect to border security) that Democrats won’t like, but that could help secure Republican votes in the Senate and eventually the House. Punchbowl News succinctly describes the shakedown effort underway:

McConnell acknowledged he’s on the same page as Biden and congressional Democrats “conceptually.” But McConnell also said that his push for more Ukraine funding is looking increasingly contingent on a bipartisan breakthrough on the crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border …

The White House has proposed billions of dollars in new border security funding, but Republicans have dismissed that approach as simply a continuation of what they term the administration’s failed policies. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, for his part, has said immigration policy changes are a non-starter in any supplemental package.

That’s where a new GOP effort comes in. Republicans, including the most vocal Ukraine backers, tell us they want to make it clear in their public messaging that the Ukraine portion won’t get approved without a side-by-side border-security effort. In many ways, that’s the only way they’ll be able to justify a massive Ukraine aid boost to their constituents.

Democrats are all over the map on what border policies should look like, making this a fraught subject on which to bend to the will of quasi-nativist Republicans (who have the lash of likely 2024 presidential nominee Donald Trump aimed at their backs), particularly with Hispanic voters being a major target for both parties next year.

So two big questions are emerging: How much are Democrats willing to concede to obnoxious Republican demands on border security and potentially other topics to get additional money for Ukraine? And is there any price they might pay that will be big enough to bring House Republicans in on a deal, assuming Republicans are even interested in anything other than partisan posturing?

There isn’t a lot of time left to resolve these two big questions, Republicans are telling Punchbowl News:

Senate Republicans tell us they believe the Nov. 17 government funding deadline could be their last chance to pass a significant aid package for the war-torn country.

“We’ve got three weeks to get this done,” one GOP senator said. “If we don’t, we’re telling Russia they can go have Ukraine.”

Vladimir Putin can afford to wait a few weeks.


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