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Senate Republicans seek concessions on Biden’s $106 billion request for aid to Israel, Ukraine

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(WASHINGTON) — Senate Republicans made clear Tuesday they hope to make some major modifications to President Joe Biden’s $106 billion national security funding request that includes aid to Ukraine and Israel.

“It’s pretty clear that the supplemental that was sent over is just a starting point,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said at a press conference Tuesday. “We are going to go over it with a fine tooth comb.”

Now, just days after the request arrived on the hill, Senate Republicans are drawing lines in the sand with a particular focus on modifying policies at the southern border. Their aim is to extract policy wins while crafting a bill that would be most palatable to their House colleagues.

The Senate Appropriations Committee will likely be the ones to take the reins when it comes to shaping the president’s request to the Senate’s liking.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin are slated to appear before the committee next Tuesday, Oct. 31, for a full review of the supplemental request.

But members of the larger GOP conference are already staking out their positions.

Here are a few of the biggest GOP pain points in Biden’s new proposal:

The linking of Israel and Ukraine funding

There’s little consensus among Senate Republicans around whether or not broadly-supported aid to Israel ought to be linked to aid for Ukraine, which has been waning in popularity for some time. The Biden proposal loops Ukraine and Israel together along with funding for border security and Taiwan.

In the Senate, there’s a small but not insignificant group of Republicans who have called repeatedly on Senate leadership to allow them to consider the measures separately.

“Americans should be disgusted that President Biden and Washington’s ruling class continue to use crisis after crisis to push massive spending packages for issues that have no business being voted on together,” Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., said in a statement. “There is overwhelming bipartisan support for Israel and we can get an aid package passed in the Senate quickly. The same cannot be said about Biden’s asks on Ukraine aid, which is far broader than just lethal aid to defeat Putin.”

But McConnell on Tuesday actually backed Biden’s move to link money for Ukraine to funding for Israel, Taiwan and the border. He called the threats to Ukraine and Israel part of a “worldwide problem that needs to be dealt with entirely, not in piecemeal.”

“I do think it needs to be comprehensive,” McConnell said of the supplemental request. “I think it needs to deal with all of these because they are all interrelated.”

It seems relatively unlikely that the Senate will split up the package. Not enough Republicans oppose moving the funding as a block, and there are also concerns about how long it could take to move several individual packages.

“It’s hard to see how, just from a scheduling standpoint, if you had to move all those bills separately, how you get that done with any kind of speed around here,” Senate Minority Whip John Thune said.

As long as there isn’t a speaker of the House, it’s not entirely clear what the House might do if the Senate were to send along one package. The House could potentially split up a Senate-passed bill, but the path forward is unclear.

Border policy, not just funding

Biden’s supplemental includes $14 billion allocated for the southern border. Though initially thought to be a pot-sweetener for Republicans, the funding has proven lackluster for many in the Senate.

Republicans say they’ll need substantive policy changes at the border — not just additional funding — in order to back the Biden supplemental.

“That supplemental the Biden administration proposed that is a joke,” Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., said. “It is not about throwing more money at the border, we’ve got to slow the flow, it’s about changing policies. They don’t need a lot more money at the border they’ve got to change the policies to remove the incentives to come across the border.”

A group of Senate Republicans has been meeting regularly to develop a list of policy proposals they’d like enacted. Nothing has been firmed up but among those being considered are changes to asylum policy, parole, and other measures aimed at “slowing the flow” of migrants into the country, such as a reinstatement of the Trump administration’s Remain in Mexico policy or the pandemic-era Title 42.

“This needs to be deterrence, needs to be a change in policy, it needs to be make sure that what we’re going to do is see these numbers come down not just a little bit but very very measurably,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va. said.

This issue could become one of the biggest across-the-aisle fights on this package.

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, at a press conference Tuesday, made his objection to the GOP position clear.

“We are not for policy changes,” Schumer said.

Objection to Gaza Aid

Nestled within the administration’s request is a $10 billion allocation for humanitarian relief to be divvied among Israel, Ukraine and Gaza.

Republicans are turning up their noses as the Gaza piece. While concerned about the well-being of innocent civilians in Gaza, Republicans like Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, expressed concern about funds falling into the wrong hands.

“The problem with just sort of blanket offers of humanitarian aid is that money is fungible. And if you free up Hamas to spend resources on killing people, you haven’t actually accomplished much on the humanitarian side, You’ve just killed more Israelis,” Vance said.

Thune was blunt when asked about the Gaza funds: “That’ll be problematic for a number our folks,” he said.

Senate Democrats are largely lining up behind Biden’s package, but at least some Senate Republicans will have to back the final product to eventually green light the aid since 60 votes are needed to clear the Senate filibuster.

If all Democrats are present and voting — and if they all support the bill, which remains to be seen — then at least nine Republicans will need to back it.

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