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Schumer McConnell foreign aid bill

Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell lock arms to pass foreign aid package

Late Tuesday night, the Senate overwhelmingly passed a $95 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, finally bringing to an end Congress’ months-long standoff over Ukraine.

The legislation also requires TikTok to divest from its Chinese parent company, ByteDance, within a year or face a U.S. ban. And it authorizes the seizure of Russian sovereign assets to be used for Ukraine’s reconstruction.

The 79-18 vote sends the massive national security package to President Joe Biden’s desk. Thirty-one Republicans voted for the bill this time, compared to just 22 who supported a similar version back in February.

Senate Republican Conference Chair John Barrasso was the only member of the GOP leadership to oppose it. Three Republicans were absent — Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.), Tommy Tuberville (Ala.) and Tim Scott (S.C.).

Biden said he’d sign the legislation today so that arms shipments to Ukrainian forces could begin “this week.”

The Trump bump: Oddly enough, some GOP senators believe that former President Donald Trump actually enabled passage of this bill in the end — or at least gave some political cover to those who flipped from “no” to “yes.”

While Trump has declared his opposition to new Ukraine aid, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee didn’t try to kill this measure as he did successfully with the bipartisan border security deal a few months ago.

Instead, Trump issued a vague statement about European nations doing more to help Ukraine. And Trump later defended Speaker Mike Johnson amid calls from some hardline GOP conservatives to topple the speaker.

To many Senate Republicans, that was as much of a green light as they’d get from Trump to vote for this bill.

“They worked President Trump around to a position where he pretty much gave everybody a pass,” said a GOP senator who requested anonymity. “We’re not willing to tell Trump, ‘Mr. President, this time I can’t be with you. I’m sorry — just 99 percent of the time.’”

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who’s running to replace Mitch McConnell as Senate GOP leader, said his interpretation of Trump’s remarks was that he’s “supportive of it.” Cornyn called Johnson “a profile in courage” for putting Ukraine funding on the House floor after months of delay.

Trump’s closest Hill allies didn’t fault Trump for not taking a whack at the legislation. Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), a very vocal opponent of the bill, said Trump could have potentially reduced the number of GOP “yes” votes but couldn’t have defeated it outright.

“What Donald Trump did was he stayed out of it,” Vance told us. “I think it was smart politically because he’s not president of the United States. What’s smart for him is to maintain flexibility.”

Schumer behind the scenes: Republican infighting over Ukraine dominated the headlines, but the key to passing this bill was that House and Senate Democrats remained united on the issue. McConnell even pointed this out Tuesday as he was lamenting the GOP divisions.

For his part, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer offered strong praise for McConnell as the Senate prepared to vote on Tuesday night, showing how important that leader-to-leader channel had become.

“McConnell and I locked arms on this,” Schumer told us in an interview. “We saw it the same way early on.”

Shortly after the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attack on Israel, McConnell approached Schumer and asked him not to separate Israel aid from any Ukraine funding.

This was in McConnell’s interest because it insulated him from his party’s divisions over Ukraine and made any aid package easier to pass. Schumer would also eventually face progressive anger over the staggering number of Palestinian casualties from Israel’s military operations in Gaza.

“We made a pact that we were never going to split them,” Schumer told us. “And that pact never broke in all the times the House and some of the righties in his own caucus were saying just do Israel.”

In the ensuing months, Schumer and McConnell spoke multiple times per week to strategize over how to get a comprehensive aid package through the Senate. The two grew closer over their shared desire to get it over the finish line. In the meantime, they were able to get government funding and FISA reauthorization done, too.

“I never wanted to give up on this, even in the lowest moments — and there were many,” Schumer added.

On TikTok: In mid-March, after the House passed its TikTok bill, four key lawmakers spent an hour in a SCIF to map out a strategy for passing the bill in the Senate, we’re told.

Reps. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) and Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), the chair and ranking member of the House’s China select committee, met with Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Vice Chair Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) on the issue. Rubio voted no on the aid package.

Warner came out in support of the House’s TikTok bill — authored by Gallagher and Krishnamoorthi — and worked to get it through the Senate, eventually winning over a skeptical Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.). The divestiture period was lengthened from six months to a year at Cantwell’s request.

— Andrew Desiderio and John Bresnahan

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