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Rand Paul blocks Senate vote to advance Ukraine war aid bill

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Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) objected Thursday to a Senate vote on assistance for Ukraine, delaying passage of the bill till next week and dampening a bipartisan push to maintain steady aid to Kyiv.

The senator faced backlash over his opposition but said he stands by his decision. “My oath of office is to the U.S. Constitution, not to any foreign nation,” Paul tweeted Thursday evening, repeating his remarks on the Senate floor. While he said he sympathizes with the Ukrainian people, Paul added that the United States “cannot continue to spend money we don’t have” because doing so is “threatening our own national security.”

The bill — which would send $39.8 billion in economic, humanitarian and defense aid to Ukraine — passed in the House of Representatives this week with broad support. President Biden said he wanted it on his desk by the end of this week, with Washington trying to head off a lapse in funding to Ukraine as Kyiv’s forces clash with the Russian military in the country’s east and south. In a letter to lawmakers this month urging Congress to approve the aid package, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the remaining authorized aid funds would run out by May 19.

Paul was able to single-handedly block the package’s advancement because the Senate requires unanimous consent to quickly move such a bill to a final vote. Now, the chamber must jump through all the usual procedural hoops.

House approves nearly $40 billion in aid to Ukraine as it fights off Russian aggression

Paul requested that an inspector general be appointed to oversee the funding but rejected an offer from Senate leaders to hold an amendment vote on his provision. Changing the bill would have forced it back to the House.

In response, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Paul’s position is at odds with the “overwhelming majority” of lawmakers in the chamber. “Again, all he will accomplish with his actions here today is to delay that aid, not to stop it,” Schumer added. “It’s aid desperately needed by a valiant people fighting against authoritarianism and defending democracy.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki noted in a Thursday news briefing that the bill already included funding for existing inspectors general, as well as other oversight measures. She also reiterated Biden’s call to push the aid package through the legislative process.

Paul’s opposition has attracted disapproval at home and abroad. Olexander Scherba, Ukraine’s former ambassador to Austria, said on Twitter that Paul’s move amounted to a failure to defend Ukraine’s liberty. The Democratic candidate looking to unseat Paul in this year’s election, Charles Booker, also denounced his obstruction. Paul’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Last month, Paul said during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing that U.S. support for Ukraine to join NATO contributed to Russia’s decision to invade. The comment was seen as an echo of Russian talking points, leading to a clash with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and prompting rebukes from Russia watchers.

Cheng reported from Seoul.

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