Senate advances aid package for Ukraine and Israel

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has introduced a stripped down version of an aid package after Republicans blocked a larger measure

The Senate has advanced an aid package for Ukraine and Israel a day after Republicans blocked a larger bipartisan border security and foreign aid bill.

Pushing through an initial hurdle, lawmakers voted 67-32 to consider the $95b (£75.2b) aid package.

Democrats are in favour of passing the aid, but Republicans remain divided.

The new bill strips out several US border measures from a $118b bipartisan package that Senate Republicans voted down on Wednesday.

The fate of this latest version remains unclear, and there is still much disagreement among Republican senators that could cause the process to drag on for days.

If the Senate goes on to approve the aid, it must still be passed by the House of Representatives - a chamber with a Republican majority that has not been eager to approve such funding.

This could be Congress's last shot at passing Ukraine aid for the foreseeable future, however, and Ukraine has warned that it may not be able to successfully defend itself against Russia without Washington's backing.

The US, which is the biggest provider of aid to Ukraine, has been unable to provide further aid since December because of the political gridlock in Congress.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer - who drafted the measure - called the vote a "good first step" and pledged to "keep working on this bill - until the job is done".

The bill includes $60bn of military aid for Ukraine and $14.1bn in security assistance for Israel. It also provides $9.15bn in humanitarian funding for civilians in countries facing conflict.

After rejecting the initial bill, Senate Republicans have now agreed to consider this foreign aid version of the measure. They have kept open the possibility of making further changes, however.

It is possible Republicans could add some of the border measures that were stripped out of the original bill, or remove some elements of the funding the legislation would provide.

The White House had asked Congress months ago to pass a bill that included foreign aid. Their proposal mirrors the one now under consideration.

Republican lawmakers had demanded that any bill be linked to strict border security measures, citing a crisis at the southern border. Negotiations over those provisions slowed the process and flow of aid for months.

But after former President Donald Trump recently attacked the agreement reached by a bipartisan group of senators, several Republicans rejected the new bill.

In this latest vote, 17 Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, voted in favour of advancing the stripped down bill.

Sen Jim Lankford - an Oklahoma Republican who helped lead negotiations for the border bill - opposed the stand-alone measure, alongside independent Sen. Bernie Sanders and Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky.

"I want to be here a week, because I want to talk about what a disaster the bill is and what a mistake it is to send our money to other countries before we fix our own problems here," said Mr Paul, who pledged to slow the process further.