By Patricia Zengerle and Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. Senate leaders vowed on Thursday to keep trying to reach an agreement to provide billions of dollars in new security aid to Ukraine, but faced uncertainty about doing so quickly after Republicans blocked a sweeping foreign security assistance bill.
Senate Republicans voted unanimously on Wednesday to block the emergency spending bill to provide $110.5 billion in funds for Ukraine, Israel and other security needs, to press their demands for more control of immigration via the U.S. border with Mexico.
The result, which had been expected, threatened Democratic President Joe Biden’s effort to provide new aid before the end of 2023. It came after Democrats and Republicans had negotiated for weeks to add immigration policy changes to the security bill to win enough Republican votes to pass.
Those talks broke off last Friday, and emotions ran so high that a classified Senate briefing on Ukraine on Tuesday erupted into a shouting match from which several Republicans stormed out.
“We are left with only two paths forward to break the logjam. Either Republicans can take us up on an amendment offer or we can restart negotiations,” the Senate’s Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, said as he opened the chamber on Thursday.
By mid-November, the U.S. Defense Department had used 97% of $62.3 billion in supplemental funding it had received for Ukraine and the State Department had used all of the $4.7 billion in military assistance funding it had been allocated to help Kyiv as it battles Russian invaders, U.S. budget director Shalanda Young said this week.
If Congress does not provide new funds to buy replacement equipment, the U.S., Ukraine and arms makers may have to take other steps to backfill stocks.
BIPARTISAN IMMIGRATION TALKS RESUME
Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, repeated assertions that Democrats do not take border security seriously enough, but said he hoped for an agreement.
“Hopefully, the Senate can now see a new opportunity to make real progress on legislation that addresses urgent national security priorities both at home and abroad,” McConnell said in the Senate.
Senator Chris Murphy, who has been a main negotiator in immigration talks with Republican, said the two sides were meeting on Thursday. “We need more constructive ideas from Republicans that can get Democratic votes. I’m willing to listen.”
Lawmakers said Congress should not leave for a Christmas break in mid-December without legislation being completed.
“It would be irresponsible legislatively for our Republican colleagues to decide that they’re going home to celebrate the holidays, when our allies continue to be involved in existential fights that relate directly to America’s national security,” the top House Democrat, Representative Hakeem Jeffries, said at his weekly news conference.
The Democratic-backed emergency spending bill would provide about $50 billion in new security assistance for Ukraine, as well as money for humanitarian and economic aid for the government in Kyiv, plus $14 billion for Israel as it battles Hamas in Gaza.
The emergency spending legislation also included $20 billion for border security, but Republicans say excessive illegal immigration across the southern border with Mexico is a hugely important security concern that must be addressed with far-reaching legislation.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Richard Cowan; Additional reporting by Katharine Jackson and Moira Warburton; Editing by Don Durfee, Jonathan Oatis and Daniel Wallis)