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Schumer, McConnell, Ukraine-Israel aid

What’s next on Ukraine-Israel? Plus, Mitch McConnell redeemed

Latest on foreign aid: The Senate is on track to pass the House’s $95 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan as soon as this afternoon, sending the long-stalled measure to President Joe Biden’s desk.

Senators have two roll-call votes at around 1 p.m. The first is on a GOP procedural motion, while the second would overcome a bipartisan filibuster and set up final passage by Wednesday night at the latest.

Of course, the Senate being the Senate, it’s unclear when exactly the bill will pass. But with each senator limited to just one hour of remarks after today’s procedural votes, it’s likely that those who oppose the measure won’t be able to drag this out much later than tonight.

As we wrote on Monday, there are ongoing talks between Senate leaders about possible amendment votes and procedural motions. These discussions could prompt a unanimous-consent agreement to vote on the final passage this afternoon. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who opposes sending some military weapons to Israel, is among those demanding “a chance to debate and vote on the key components” of the package.

However, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer doesn’t have much of an incentive to engage with these demands given the fact that opponents are limited to just an hour each on the floor.

The McConnell legacy: We wrote in the Monday AM edition about how Biden can be considered the biggest winner of the 118th Congress so far.

But it isn’t just Biden scoring a win on the foreign aid bill. The same can be said for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose persistence on Ukraine is about to finally pay off when the Senate clears the House bill.

For more than two years now, McConnell has been the loudest and most consistent Ukraine backer in Congress, frequently calling out his own party’s drift away from its traditional hawkishness toward isolationism.

Of course, it took much longer than McConnell would have liked to enact this package. McConnell took repeated arrows from his right flank along the way, and he suffered multiple setbacks — including being overruled by his conference at the first government funding deadline in September.

A bipartisan border security proposal that McConnell championed as key to unlocking Ukraine funding also collapsed amid opposition from former President Donald Trump and Speaker Mike Johnson.

McConnell, however, worked with Senate Democrats and the White House to pass a $95 billion Ukraine-Israel-Taiwan package. McConnell afterward announced he wouldn’t be running for GOP leader again, setting off a succession fight.

Following two months of delay, Johnson — under intense pressure from McConnell, the White House and many of his own House GOP colleagues — reversed course and embraced more than $60 billion in Ukraine funding. The House cleared the measure with a big bipartisan vote on Saturday.

But even then, a majority of House Republicans opposed the Ukraine aid, which was at the center of the package.

And while this has become a major moment for McConnell, it’s still unclear whether a majority of the Senate GOP Conference will vote for the House measure.

In February, the Senate’s version got 22 GOP votes, just under half of the 49-member conference. This time around, Senate GOP leadership aides think several additional votes could be in play. If the Republican “yes” votes total 25 or more, expect to hear some chest-thumping from GOP leaders.

A win’s a win: The 82-year-old McConnell is an old-school Reagan Republican whose pro-NATO and anti-Russia views have been a hallmark of his decades-long Senate career. McConnell has made it his mission to see that the more populist, Trump-aligned view doesn’t win out in his party.

You saw this divide on stark display over the weekend when Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) went after Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) for his opposition to Ukraine aid. And it will continue to be a major flashpoint for Republicans this fall as Trump pushes his “America First” agenda.

To Vance, the success of this particular package belies the growing number of Republicans bucking McConnell’s view. Vance himself replaced Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), a staunch Ukraine supporter and McConnell ally.

“There’s no doubt we’re winning the argument,” Vance told us Monday. “Our voters want us to put America first. And we’re seeing a growing number of Republican senators who think Ukraine has nothing to do with that.”

Yet McConnell won this round by playing the long game. McConnell embraced his party’s demands for border security in exchange for foreign aid, waiting patiently as Senate and White House negotiators forged a compromise.

McConnell made the case to GOP senators that this was the time — not with Trump in office — to pass meaningful border restrictions. Democrats were prepared to accept many of the GOP’s border demands because they so badly wanted to pass more Ukraine aid. McConnell saw an opportunity. But few listened to him.

The end result was that Republicans got little on border security, and Biden got exactly what he asked for on foreign aid.

— Andrew Desiderio

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