News & Commentary

Senate approves bill with uncertain future in House as Ukraine hangs in the balance

A file photo shows the American flag below the U.S. Capitol dome in Washington. (OSV News photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters)

WASHINGTON (OSV News) — The Senate passed an approximately $95 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, following months of a stalemate amid growing divisions within the Republican Party over the role of the United States on the global stage.

But the legislation faces an uncertain future in the House even as Ukraine’s forces are running out of ammunition without U.S. resupply, and Catholic agencies report persecution in parts of Ukraine under Russian occupation.

The Senate voted 70-29 to approve both military and humanitarian aid for civilians in areas of conflict facing allied nations.

In Feb. 13 remarks on the Senate floor, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said, “It’s certainly been years, perhaps decades, since the Senate has passed a bill that so greatly impacts not just our national security, not just the security of our allies, but the security of western democracy.”

“As I have said, if we want the world to remain a safe place for freedom, for democratic principles, for our future prosperity, then America must lead the way,” Schumer said. “And with this bill, the Senate declares that American leadership will not waver, will not falter, will not fail.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., also said in a Feb. 13 statement, “The Senate understands the responsibilities of America’s national security and will not neglect them.”

“Our adversaries want America to decide that reinforcing allies and partners is not in our interest, and that investing in strategic competition is not worth it. They want us to take hard-earned credibility and light it on fire,” McConnell said. “But today, the Senate responded by reaffirming a commitment to rebuild and modernize our military, restore our credibility, and give the current Commander-in-Chief, as well as the next, more tools to secure our interests.”

An official with Catholic Relief Services, the international relief and development agency of the Catholic Church in the U.S., applauded the inclusion of humanitarian aid in the bill.

“Humanitarian assistance is needed now,” Bill O’Keefe, CRS executive vice president for mission, mobilization and advocacy, said in a Feb. 13 statement. “And the inclusion of more than $9 billion in humanitarian aid in the Senate’s supplemental bill is a positive step.”

O’Keefe added, “But more work will need to be done to ensure the House retains this life-saving aid in any package it moves.”

The Senate bill comes at a critical point for Ukraine as Russian forces have been able to advance on Ukraine’s fortress city of Avdiivka, a consequence of Ukraine’s need to ration severely its remaining ammunition after the Pentagon ran out of authorized military aid to provide to Ukraine’s forces Dec. 27. Avdiivka is considered key for Russia’s military to seize Ukraine’s entire Donbas region.

Russian occupation already is unleashing persecution of the Catholic Church not seen since the days of the Soviet Union. Since 2022, Russian authorities have banned the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and other Catholic ministries in occupied areas of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia region, including the Knights of Columbus and Caritas, according to church authorities there.

However, some in the Republican Party have grown skeptical of the U.S. role on the world stage, arguing new policies for the U.S.-Mexico border should be prioritized. After hammering out compromise legislation that delayed aid for Ukraine and Israel in order to include border security provisions, Republicans in the Senate and the House aligned with former President Donald Trump, the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, eventually rejected that bill after Trump argued its passage would aid President Joe Biden in the November election.

Catholic immigration advocates also had criticized the border provisions in that bill, particularly its restrictions on asylum.

The newly passed Senate bill faces steep odds in the House, where a razor-thin Republican majority appears opposed to it. House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., said in a statement that “national security begins at our own border.”

“Now, in the absence of having received any single border policy change from the Senate, the House will have to continue to work its own will on these important matters,” Johnson said. “America deserves better than the Senate’s status quo.”

President Joe Biden said in a statement that the legislation is “critical to advancing America’s national security interests.”

“It will allow the United States to continue our vital work, together with our allies and partners all around the world, to stand up for Ukraine’s freedom and support its ability to defend itself against Russia’s aggression,” Biden said.

Biden added the bill would also help Israel “with what it needs to protect its people against Hamas terrorists” and also “will provide life-saving humanitarian assistance for the Palestinian people, the vast majority of whom have nothing to do with Hamas.”

Biden added he applauds “the bipartisan coalition of Senators who came together to advance this agreement, and I urge the House to move on this with urgency.”

“We cannot afford to wait any longer,” he said. “The costs of inaction are rising every day.”

The second anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine is Feb. 24.

By Kate Scanlon | OSV News