Chuck Schumer made the right call in bringing the aid bill for Ukraine and Israel to the floor without the provisions for border security, which were deemed dead on arrival by the GOP. The move follows a very simple rule that legislators should heed more often: Pass what can pass.
There are still hurdles ahead for the bill, but the fact that it was able to pass its first procedural vote today at least gets the wheels of Congress moving, an accomplishment that is harder than it looks these days. The border crisis is still a crisis, and it needs to be addressed, but the country can’t function if every piece of legislation is an omnibus bill that either passes or fails entirely.
Today’s successful procedural vote also demonstrates that the center might be able to hold after all. Republicans—some, not all—are skeptical of aiding Ukraine. Democrats—some, not all—are queasy about aid to Israel.
Of the subjects in the original proposal, Israel is probably the least controversial. This fact lulled Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson into false confidence when he put up the Israel aid as a stand-alone bill earlier in the week. Yet thanks to a procedural hiccup, the bill needed a two-thirds majority to pass. It didn’t get it. Forty-six Democrats voted with all but twelve Republicans to pass the aid bill, but it wasn’t enough. Without the Ukraine aid, President Biden threatened to veto it.
That struck me as silly—see above rule, “pass what can pass.” But it gave Israel-skeptical Dems an out, and they took it. Democrats’ accusation that Johnson was “playing politics” by putting up an Israel-alone bill is childish. This is all politics, and it is practiced by politicians, and if “politics” is a dirty word—well, no wonder Congress refuses to do its job.
By the same token, the right-wing talking point that Biden “cares more about the Ukraine border than America’s border” is nonsensical. Is aid to Taiwan also just a play to secure another country’s border before America’s? I suppose I shouldn’t even ask that rhetorically, or Matt Gaetz will put it in a fundraising email and then Taiwan aid will be dead, too.
Schumer’s strategy is essentially to bet that, combined, the two parties have enough centrists to pass the aid bills together. Israel supporters plus Ukraine supporters equals passage.
Ah, but there’s a problem with this equation. Schumer may need to subtract legislators who approve of what’s in this bill but are threatening not to vote for it because it also doesn’t include other things. Legislators such as hawkish Ukraine supporter Lindsey Graham. “You’ve hurt the cause of Ukraine by trying to shortchange the debate on the border,” Graham said today. “You may get this bill passed without any border, but it’s going nowhere in the House.”
Graham thinks the Senate hurt the cause of Ukraine by forwarding a bill that can’t pass the House, and it can’t pass the House because it doesn’t have border security…which was the poison pill that killed the last bill on launch.
This is beginning to feel like one of those riddles we used to have to solve in grade school: How do you get the chicken and the fox and the omnibus appropriations bill across the river without ever leaving the fox alone with the chicken or a congressman alone with the appropriations bill?
Of course, the New York Times tells us, the Democrats “also have a wish list of changes.” What do the Democrats hope Santa brings them? A potshot stunt aimed to satisfy their desire to mess with Israel. “Nearly 20 Democratic senators, most of them from the left wing of the party, have signed on to a proposal that would require recipients of security aid to use weapons in accordance with U.S. law, international humanitarian law and the laws of armed conflict—and not hamper efforts to send humanitarian aid to civilians. While the measure does not specifically mention Israel, it was inspired by senators’ concerns about that country’s bombardment of the Gaza Strip running afoul of international law.”
These Democrats are looking for a way to bend their own interpretation of something Israel will do in the future to try to tie the Jewish state’s hands behind its back while Hamas keeps shooting. It won’t pass or even accomplish anything constructive, but Congress can’t throw a bad-faith party without inviting the Squad, so here we are. Everybody come get some sour candy.
Still, the bill’s having received 67 votes without yet tossing a few sardines to the dolphins is a sign that there really is a path for this legislation. At the end of this circus we’ll likely have a bill. And a migraine.