Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer wants to pass the $95 billion foreign aid package before sending senators home and on CODELs for what was scheduled to be the two-week Presidents Day recess.
That means Friday, Saturday and, yes, Super Bowl Sunday sessions. Buckle up!
Seventeen Republican senators — less than half the GOP Conference — crossed the aisle and voted with nearly every Democrat on Thursday to advance a foreign aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.
The biggest concern right now for leadership in both parties is what they see as an effort by opponents to kill, or at the very least, delay the legislation. More on that in a moment.
Let’s start with the schedule: The Senate convenes at noon today. The vote on proceeding to the legislative vehicle for the foreign aid package will be at 7 p.m., at a simple majority threshold. This will clear easily.
At a minimum, we expect Schumer then to file cloture on the substitute amendment sometime after the vote tonight. That would set up a cloture vote on Sunday — Super Bowl Sunday. We’re looking at you, Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.).
Absent an agreement to speed the process, final passage for the legislation would be sometime early next week, likely by Tuesday.
It seems extremely unlikely that there will be any agreement to speed things up, especially with conservatives focused on making Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s job as difficult as possible. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), for example, told us he’ll make a deal “when hell freezes over.”
However, to secure meaningful amendment votes, there needs to be a unanimous consent agreement in place.
Schumer has been touting his record on allowing amendment votes, but he hasn’t telegraphed any commitments publicly. Democrats are warning their Republican counterparts that they can’t make “unreasonable” demands on amendments — especially those senators who are never going to vote for the package anyway.
Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.), who called himself a “contrarian” on the GOP amendments push because he supports the underlying bill in its current form, said the burden is on his party to request specific votes. Young fears that GOP senators who oppose Ukraine aid are using delay tactics to kill the package altogether or further erode its prospects in the House.
“I have concerns that support for Ukraine will wane [in the House] as they realize that the longer this goes, the better this is for them,” Young told us.
As we reported on Wednesday, several GOP senators want amendments related to border security. These would likely be at a 60-vote threshold, so they’d be defeated. Others are related to oversight of Ukraine aid.
There are also conversations about possible amendment votes on defense-related legislation that fell off the annual defense authorization bill during negotiations with the House. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) wants a vote on his proposal to reauthorize a compensation program for victims of nuclear contamination. Other senators want a vote on the Afghan Adjustment Act, which is aimed at boosting legal protections for Afghan refugees.
Democrats and amendments: It’s not just Republicans who are interested in amendments, either. Democratic senators have filed plenty of their own, although they aren’t threatening to hold up the entire package.
One rather significant issue was cleared from Schumer’s plate on Thursday night when President Joe Biden issued a national security memorandum that places new restrictions on the use of U.S. military aid. Biden’s order essentially codifies a proposal from Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and 18 other Democrats that requires countries receiving U.S. military aid to comply with international humanitarian law.
The effort came about amid growing Democratic criticism over Palestinian casualties stemming from Israeli military operations in Gaza. Van Hollen told reporters that Biden’s order means “We’ve accomplished our goal now,” so he’s no longer asking for a vote on his amendment. Van Hollen said Biden’s move gives the United States “much more leverage” to ensure that Israel and other countries comply with these requirements.
This is important for several reasons. First, it makes Schumer’s life easier and obviates a potentially difficult vote for Democrats. Second, Van Hollen would have struggled to find support for the amendment if it came up for a vote, so Biden’s action effectively implements it by executive order.
Biden announced the memorandum just minutes after telling reporters that he believes Israel’s military operations in Gaza have been “over the top” — an assessment shared by Van Hollen and a growing number of Democrats.
Note: Our event with Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) scheduled for today in Cincinnati has been postponed because of the Senate’s schedule. We’ll let you know when we have a new date.
— Andrew Desiderio