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Republican Senators Weigh Israel, Ukraine Aid Without Border Demands

(Bloomberg) -- Key Republican senators are exploring dropping demands for new border restrictions and backing a stand-alone emergency aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.

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Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump, House Speaker Mike Johnson and other conservatives oppose the border deal, prompting consideration of a Plan B for the overseas aid. But a standalone Ukraine package would also likely provoke opposition from the right.

“It’s time for us to move something, hopefully including a border agreement. But we need to get help to Israel and Ukraine,” Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell told reporters on Wednesday.

McConnell praised the emerging border deal, but said getting widespread agreement is “challenging.”

Ukraine is running short of weapons to protect its cities, with vital assistance from Europe and the US held up by political disputes. Ukraine’s defense minister warned allies Wednesday the country is facing a “critical” shortage of artillery shells and its troops are outgunned three-to-one by Russia.

Reade More: Ukraine Tells Allies Troops Are Outgunned Three-to-One by Russia

“It would be nice to change the status quo on the border, but if there is not the political support to do that, then I think we should proceed with the rest of the supplemental,” Senator John Cornyn of Texas, a senior Republican, told reporters Tuesday.

President Joe Biden’s request for billions of dollars in new Ukraine aid has been delayed for months by Republican demands that the funding be tied to new restrictions on the US border.

Democrats, who have long pushed to expedite Ukraine aid, now want a border deal. Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, told reporters the focus is on getting a border deal and there’s no talk of a Ukraine standalone.

A bipartisan deal to address migration could benefit Biden’s reelection campaign. Some 61% of swing-state voters say Biden bears responsibility for the migrant surge at the border, far more than the 38% who say the same about Republican in Congress, a Bloomberg News/Morning Consult poll found.

Read More: Swing-State Voters Blame Biden for Migrant Surge at the Border

Senate Republicans’ second-ranking leader, John Thune of South Dakota, said GOP senators are considering how to proceed in the face of opposition to a border deal from House Republicans. That is likely to include passage of some emergency aid, though it might not be what Biden requested, he said.

“My assumption is there will be an effort to pass something out of here. What the individual components are remains to be seen,” Thune said.

Cornyn said party leaders would have to test whether the votes are there for a border deal or for moving forward without one.

“We started saying no Ukraine without border, and now some of the same people are saying, well, I don’t like the border provisions, but I’m not sure that means they’ll vote for Ukraine or not,” Cornyn said.

Johnson said last week the Senate deal would be “dead on arrival” in the House. He doubled down on his opposition on Wednesday, saying that descriptions of the emerging deal — which he acknowledged he hasn’t seen — indicate it lacks the “transformational policy changes needed to actually stop the border catastrophe.”

Trump told reporters at Teamsters Union headquarters in Washington that the emerging migration deal would be “terrible” for the country.

Another option for Ukraine aid would be attaching it to government funding legislation needed to avoid a partial government shutdown on March 1. Members of the congressional spending panels said in interviews they are loathe to mix the issues because it would risk provoking a shutdown.

Complicating plans for a separate Ukraine vote is a threat from Georgia Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene to oust Johnson if he puts a Ukraine funding bill up for a vote. Johnson has said he would only fund Ukraine once the border situation is secured, a posture that would be difficult for him to walk back.

House Democratic Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar said Tuesday that one option in the House could be for Democrats to use a discharge petition, a procedural motion to force a vote on Ukraine aide if it can get a majority of the House to sign the petition.

--With assistance from Billy House and Stephanie Lai.

(Updates with McConnell comment in third paragraph)

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