Senate Republicans hold firm in face of last-minute White House push for Ukraine aid

PHOTO: Senator Mitch McConnell arrives for the weekly Senate Republican Leadership press conference, at the U.S. Capitol, in Washington, D.C., on December 5, 2023.PlayGraeme Sloan/Sipa USA via AP
WATCH Senate to vote on Ukraine funding as GOP digs in on border security

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday he will advocate Republican senators vote against advancing additional aid for Ukraine and Israel "to make the point, hopefully for the final time, that we insist on meaningful changes to the border."

PHOTO: Senator Mitch McConnell arrives for the weekly Senate Republican Leadership press conference, at the U.S. Capitol, in Washington, D.C., on December 5, 2023. Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA via AP
Senator Mitch McConnell arrives for the weekly Senate Republican Leadership press conference, at the U.S. Capitol, in Washington, D.C., on December 5, 2023.

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In a continuing standoff over the aid the White House says is urgently needed, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has set a key procedural vote for Wednesday on a measure that includes no border provisions. He earlier on Tuesday accused Republicans of taking Ukraine aid hostage over their demands for changes to border policy.

PHOTO: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks to reporters after the weekly senate party caucus luncheons at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., December 5, 2023. Ken Cedeno/Reuters
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks to reporters after the weekly senate party caucus luncheons at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., December 5, 2023.

Schumer later told reporters that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy would no longer attend a classified Senate briefing with the Pentagon and intelligence community officials Tuesday afternoon via Zoom because, he said, something "came up" at the last minute. Zelenskyy has dispatched deputies to the Hill to persuade senators to provide more aid.

PHOTO: President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyi during a meeting with the Secretary General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg on Sept. 28, 2023 in Kyiv, Ukraine. Yan Dobronosov/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images
President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyi during a meeting with the Secretary General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg on Sept. 28, 2023 in Kyiv, Ukraine.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other top administration officials were deployed to Capitol Hill to lobby lawmakers to approve the $110 billion administration aid request for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan and the border.

Earlier, a Republican negotiator on a multibillion-dollar aid package -- Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford -- said there would be nothing Zelenskyy could say that would change his mind abut making Ukraine aid contingent on getting more money for border security.

Lankford, like many of his GOP colleagues, said while he remains concerned about Ukraine's national security, his focus remains trained first on U.S. national security interests at the southern border.

PHOTO: Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) speaks on border security and Title 42 during a press conference at the Capitol on May 11, 2023 in Washington, DC. Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images, FILE
Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) speaks on border security and Title 42 during a press conference at the Capitol on May 11, 2023 in Washington, DC.

Lankford was curt when asked if the Ukrainian president could say anything that would weaken his resolve.

"No," Lankford said. "I don't mean to say that flippantly, for him to be able to say he is very worried about a Russian invasion that is happening -- he has every right to be able to say that and every ability to be able to come and speak to all of us and say this is really serious. We have said for years to our administration, 'When is the moment we are actually going to deal with our border and with the issues that we are facing here?'"

Lankford has been meeting with a bipartisan group of negotiators for weeks, trying to find a path forward on border provisions that Democrats could stomach, and Republicans could count as policy wins. But talks hit an impasse on Friday, and little progress has been made since.

Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., one of the designated Democratic negotiators on border talks. said he believes the urgency of the situation in Ukraine will force negotiators to press on.

"I don't think the talks are ever going to end until Ukraine is funded, that's what I believe," Bennet said. "I think it's not surprising that we're getting to a point where this is going to be negotiated at the highest level at the White House and here in the Senate as well."

"... We are going to fail to pass it," Bennet said. "And then people are going to have to sharpen their pencils and spend the next week negotiating a deal that keeps American's commitment not just to Ukraine but to democracies around the world."

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the No. 2 Senate Democrat, said there needs to come a time when "people are on the record and we've got to understand that time is of the essence."

Republicans said they hope that by resolutely blocking the bill from advancing, they'll show Democrats how serious they are about getting their border provisions, and force negotiators back to the table.

"So when it comes up I think it'll be a failed vote, but we're still going to look at each other and say we've got to be able to solve all of these problems and it's not going to help by just having a failed vote and looking at each other," Lankford said. "We've actually got to sit down and finish the work to be able to get this done."

It's a "critical" time for Ukraine, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said on "Good Morning America" on Wednesday.

"We were up on Capitol Hill yesterday. We'll keep having those conversations to try to get this over the finish line," he said. "This aid to Ukraine is absolutely critical. It comes at a critical time ... as the winter months start to set in and it becomes harder for the Ukrainians to claw back some of that territory."