Shortly before he was set to appear on a Zoom call with the US Senate on Tuesday, a day before the body plans to vote on a foreign-aid package that now includes more than $60 billion for Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelensky unexpectedly canceled his virtual visit.
The president’s office released no immediate explanation for his cancelation. US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said “Zelensky by the way could not make it – something happened at the last minute – to our briefing,” AFP reported.
On social media Tuesday evening, Zelensky made no mention of the planned video conference nor the reasons for his last-minute scratch. Instead, he extended thanks to Ukraine’s air guards and recapped his meeting with the Dutch Foreign Minister, in separate tweets.
As he was set to appear, however, there were “heated exchanges” reported between Senators, who still have not come to a preliminary agreement about what it will take to pass the appropriations. (CNN said there was "yelling and screaming" on the Senate floor). Republicans have made it clear that they are not going to consider the more than $100 billion aid package to Ukraine and Israel without wholesale changes to US immigration policy, something the Democrats have been reticent to accept.
Moderate Republican senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) told reporters that the discussions fell apart because Democrats refused to come to the table about "the open border" in order to "get this done."
In the lead-up to Zelensky’s planned video link, Democrats were making the case for the White House’s proposed supplemental funds.
“We can't ever put a price on defending democracy in its hour of need, because if Ukraine falls, Putin will keep on going,” Schumer said just before Zelensky’s cancellation. “Autocrats around the world will be emboldened. Democracy, this grand and noble experiment, will enter an era of decline.”
The Majority Leader had set the table for a vote Wednesday on clearing the first procedural hurdle for the aid package’s survival, but any such allocation requires 60 votes in the 100-member chamber, meaning it would need at least nine Republican ‘yea’s.
Sen John Cornyn (R-TX) said on the Senate floor the proposal had "zero chance of becoming law."
"Our security cannot come second to that of other countries around the world, our allies, even those like Ukraine and Israel,” Cornyn said.
Meanwhile, in the Republican-led lower chamber on Capitol Hill, House Speaker Mike Johnson wrote in a letter to the White House on Tuesday that his party will not pass Ukraine aid unless Congress makes “transformative changes” to US immigration policy.
The Senate’s national security package is on hold because the GOP has resorted to hostage-taking by injecting hard-right immigration proposals into the debate.— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) December 5, 2023
History will render harsh judgment on those who abandoned democracy for Donald Trump’s extreme immigration policies.
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