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Senate GOP Ukraine hawks dig in

The Kansas City Chiefs won the Super Bowl, so congratulations to their fans.

Meanwhile, the Senate was in session through the weekend burning the clock on the $95 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. There’s still no agreement on amendment votes, in part because of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

Absent a time agreement, the Senate will hold two more procedural votes tonight at around 8:30 p.m., and won’t be able to move to final passage until Wednesday. Some senators are warning of additional procedural maneuvers to drag this out further, including even a “talking filibuster.”

But unless there’s some dramatic, unforeseen shift, the Senate will have the votes to eventually pass the bill. Eighteen Republicans voted with nearly all Democrats on Sunday to move the process along, and that number could rise on final passage.

A fractured Senate GOP: These 18 senators are part of what Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) described Sunday as “the governing coalition” in the Senate GOP — a “core group” of Republicans who “want to see this place run effectively,” he said. They could come up big on the looming FY2024 spending bills as well.

It’s also a group that’s about to be on the receiving end of intense criticism in the coming weeks and months from the Donald Trump-aligned wing of the party.

For now, these Republican senators are making no apologies about their election-year vote amid unrelenting attacks from conservatives. Hardliners believe Senate GOP leaders should have listened to the party’s base and continued to block the bill until action is taken on border security. Of course, these were the same right-wing Republican senators who blocked the long-awaited bipartisan border security bill from moving forward.

“Our base cannot possibly know what’s at stake at the level that any well-briefed U.S. senator should know about what’s at stake if Putin wins,” Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) said, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the ongoing war in Ukraine, which is about to enter its third year.

That’s exactly what’s motivating Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, too. McConnell, a key Ukraine supporter, has been loudly defending his decision to move on from the border fight after his conference rejected the compromise that Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) hammered out with Democrats.

McConnell is even ignoring some political considerations here. As we scooped last week, NRSC Chair Steve Daines stood up at a closed-door GOP Conference meeting and said flatly that passing the foreign aid package without a border component would kneecap the party’s Senate candidates.

But for McConnell, the national security issues at play should trump any political calculations. On Sunday, McConnell leaned in even further, slamming those with “the dimmest and most shortsighted views of our obligations.”

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The view of McConnell’s opponents is that the longtime GOP leader is out of step with the party’s base, which is turning against Ukraine aid and believes it should be used as leverage in the border fight — even if that means jeopardizing the overall national security supplemental.

“The only way you’re going to get a lawless administration to secure the border is to hold something up that they want,” said Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who unsuccessfully challenged McConnell for GOP leader following the 2022 elections.

McConnell’s allies believe a majority of the conference supports the foreign aid package as is. Of course, several GOP senators who vocally support Ukraine aid are still in the “no” camp for various reasons — including being in-cycle.

“Take a look at filing periods for some states — if we don’t need [their vote], it’s very difficult to explain this to people,” Tillis said. “The minority of our conference has an outsized volume on the issue, but they don’t have a majority of our members.”

— Andrew Desiderio

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