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US lawmakers approve multibillion-dollar aid package for Ukraine and Israel

Ukraine is to get more military aid (Matt Rourke/AP)
Ukraine is to get more military aid (Matt Rourke/AP)

The House of Representatives has voted to approve 95 billion dollars in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other US allies.

Democrats and Republicans joined together after a months-long fight over renewed American support to help Ukraine repel Russia’s invasion.

With overwhelming support, the House approved the Ukraine portion, a 61 billion dollar aid package, in a strong showing of American backing as lawmakers race to deliver a fresh round of US support to its war-torn ally. Some lawmakers cheered, waving the blue-and-yellow flags of Ukraine.

The 26 billion dollar package aiding Israel and providing humanitarian relief to citizens of Gaza also easily cleared.

Congress Ukraine Israel
Pro-Palestinian activists demonstrate outside the Capitol in Washington (J Scott Applewhite/AP)

Each segment of the aid package faced an up-or-down vote.

The package will now go to the Senate, where passage in the coming days is nearly assured. President Joe Biden has promised to sign it immediately.

“We did our work here and I think history will judge it well,” said Republican Speaker Mike Johnson, who risked his own job to marshal the package to passage.

In a statement, Mr Biden thanked Mr Johnson, Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries and the bipartisan coalition of lawmakers “who voted to put our national security first”.

“I urge the Senate to quickly send this package to my desk so that I can sign it into law and we can quickly send weapons and equipment to Ukraine to meet their urgent battlefield needs,” the President said.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said he was “grateful” to both parties in the House and “personally Speaker Mike Johnson for the decision that keeps history on the right track”, he said on X.

“Thank you, America!” he added.

The weekend scene presented a striking display of congressional action after months of dysfunction and stalemate fuelled by Republicans, who hold the majority but are deeply split over foreign aid, particularly for Ukraine as it fights Russia’s invasion.

Mr Johnson relied on Democratic support to ensure the military and humanitarian package won approval.

The morning opened with a sombre and serious debate and unusual sense of purpose as Republican and Democratic leaders united to urge quick approval, saying that would ensure the United States supported its allies and remained a leader on the world stage.

Congress Ukraine
Speaker of the House Mike Johnson has been under pressure (J Scott Applewhite/AP)

The House’s visitor galleries crowded with onlookers.

“The eyes of the world are upon us, and history will judge what we do here and now,” said Republican Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee

Passage through the House cleared away the biggest hurdle to Mr Biden’s funding request, first made in October as Ukraine’s military supplies began to run low.

The Republican-controlled House struggled for months over what to do, first demanding that any assistance be tied to policy changes at the US-Mexico order, only to immediately reject a bipartisan Senate offer along those very lines.

“Sometimes when you are living history, as we are today, you don’t understand the significance of the actions of the votes that we make on this House floor, of the effect that it will have down the road,” said New York Representative Gregory Meeks, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “This is a historic moment.”

Opponents, particularly the hard-right Republicans, argued that the US should focus on the home front, addressing domestic border security and the nation’s rising debt load, and they warned against spending more money, which largely flows to American defence manufacturers, to produce weaponry used overseas.

While aid for Ukraine failed to win a majority of Republicans, several dozen progressive Democrats voted against the Bill aiding Israel as they demanded an end to the bombardment of Gaza that has killed thousands of civilians.

United States Ukraine Weapons Explainer
A steel worker inspects a 155mm M795 artillery projectile during the manufacturing process at the Scranton Army Ammunition Plant (Matt Rourke/AP)

At the same time, Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, has loomed large over the fight, weighing in from afar via social media statements and direct phone calls with lawmakers as he tilts the Republicans to a more isolationist stance with his “America First” brand of politics.

Ukraine’s defence once enjoyed robust, bipartisan support in Congress but as the war enters its third year, a bulk of Republicans oppose further aid. Trump ally Marjorie Taylor Greene offered an amendment to take out the money but it was rejected.

The ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus has derided the legislation as the “America Last” foreign wars package and urged lawmakers to defy the Republican leadership and oppose it because the bills do not include border security measures.

Mr Johnson’s hold on the speaker’s gavel has also grown more tenuous in recent days as three Republicans, led by Ms Greene, supported a “motion to vacate” that can lead to a vote on removing the Speaker.