Controversial foreign military aid bill clears Congress and awaits Biden's signature

Washington DC - The US Congress gave final approval to a $61 billion aid package for Ukraine late Tuesday, with President Joe Biden quickly vowing to sign the long-delayed bill and begin delivering fresh supplies this week to the war zone as Russia makes battlefield gains.

Congress has sent a bill to President Joe Biden's desk authorizing $61 billion in military aid to Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan.
Congress has sent a bill to President Joe Biden's desk authorizing $61 billion in military aid to Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan.  © MANDEL NGAN / AFP

The package of legislation also contains text that would ban TikTok in the United States if the popular social media app does not soon cut ties with its Chinese parent company.

Days after the Republican-led House of Representatives cleared the aid – part of a larger $95-billion package of assistance also to Israel and Taiwan – the Democratic-controlled Senate followed suit, passing it with bipartisan support on a 79-18 vote.

"I will sign this bill into law and address the American people as soon as it reaches my desk tomorrow so we can begin sending weapons and equipment to Ukraine this week," Biden said in a statement shortly after the vote.

Lauren Boebert called out by Pete Buttigieg after taking credit for bill she voted against
Lauren Boebert Lauren Boebert called out by Pete Buttigieg after taking credit for bill she voted against

Passage of the bill, which also provides humanitarian assistance to Gaza, Sudan, and Haiti, comes after months of acrimonious debate among lawmakers over how or even whether to send more weapons to Ukraine.

A similar aid package passed the Senate in February, but had been stalled in the House while Republican Speaker Mike Johnson – heeding calls from ex-president Donald Trump and his allies – demanded concessions from Biden on immigration policies, before a sudden recent reversal.

Biden and Zelensky hail Ukraine aid measure

President Joe Biden (r.) has promised his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky, that he will begin sending military aid this week.
President Joe Biden (r.) has promised his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky, that he will begin sending military aid this week.  © MANDEL NGAN / AFP

A Pentagon spokesperson told reporters Tuesday it could deliver fresh aid to Ukraine "within days."

Ukraine's military is facing a severe shortage of weapons and new recruits as Moscow exerts constant pressure from the east. Frontline circumstances are expected to worsen in the coming weeks, with Ukrainian intelligence head Kyrylo Budanov predicting a "rather difficult situation" beginning mid-May.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who visited Washington in December to plead for fresh aid, quickly thanked US lawmakers for passing the bill, saying on social media that he looks "forward to the bill being signed soon and the next military aid package matching the resoluteness that I always see in our negotiations."

Trump holds rare New York rally in bid to lure Black and Latino voters away from Biden
Donald Trump Trump holds rare New York rally in bid to lure Black and Latino voters away from Biden

"Ukraine's long-range capabilities, artillery, and air defense are critical tools for restoring just peace sooner."

Biden said the bill's approval showed America stands "resolutely for democracy and freedom, and against tyranny and oppression," while the Senate's top Democrat, Chuck Schumer, said it sends a message that the United States "will not turn our back on you."

The Ukraine measure also allows Biden to confiscate and sell Russian assets and provide the money to Kyiv to finance reconstruction, a move that has been embraced by other G7 nations.

The United States has been the chief military backer of Ukraine in its war against Russia, but Congress had not approved large-scale funding for Kyiv for nearly a year and a half.

The financing of the war has become a point of contention ahead of a presidential election in November that is expected to pit Biden against Trump once again, and as growing numbers of Americans urge less spending on militarism and more for social services.

Israel says US military aid sends "strong message"

Girls peer through the hole left by a destroyed window from a building in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip following Israeli air strikes overnight.
Girls peer through the hole left by a destroyed window from a building in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip following Israeli air strikes overnight.  © MOHAMMED ABED / AFP

The bill also takes aim at TikTok. It would force the platform to divest from its Chinese parent company ByteDance or face a nationwide ban in the United States, where it has around 170 million users.

Western officials have voiced alarm over the popularity of TikTok with young people, alleging it is subservient to Beijing and a conduit to spread propaganda and gather personal data – claims denied by the company.

TikTok and supporters have decried the prospective ban, warning it would trample free speech rights.

In addition to money for Ukraine, the package earmarks $13 billion for Israel amid its brutal siege on Gaza.

Israeli foreign minister Israel Katz thanked the US Senate for approving the military aid, saying on social media site X that it was "a clear testament to the strength of our alliance and sends a strong message to all our enemies."

The US approval comes as the war on Gaza enters its 201st day.

The Palestinian territory's health ministry said 34,183 people have been killed in Israel's military campaign in Gaza, most of them women and children.

The US' ongoing support for Israel comes even as the International Court of Justice ruled there is a "plausible" case Israel is committing genocide in Gaza. International experts have warned that countries arming Israel risk violating the 1948 Genocide Convention.

The US aid package also allocates more than $9 billion for humanitarian assistance in Gaza and elsewhere, and $8 billion in military support for Taiwan amid mounting tensions with China.

Cover photo: MANDEL NGAN / AFP

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