Billings Gazette: Tester backs Israel-Ukraine aid, Daines doesn’t

by Tom Lutey

Montana Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines split on a national security bill to aid Ukraine and Israel after pulling a rare all-nighter during which Republicans opposed to the bill held the Senate floor.

The future of the $95 billion package remains uncertain with House Republican leaders indicating they won’t take up the Senate bill, this after refusing a vote on a U.S.-Mexico security package a week earlier.

Tester, the Democratic chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, voted for the bill, which had been delayed for a month to muster Republican support. The bill passed 70-29, with 22 Republicans voting for the bill. Daines voted against it.

In January, the Pentagon said it had exhausted funds to draw down for Ukraine in December, warning that Ukraine was dangerously low on munitions. 

In the days leading up to Tuesday’s 7 a.m. vote, Tester described the bill as necessary the replenish U.S. weapons stockpiles, drawn down for the past two years to supply weaponry to Ukraine in its war against the Russian invasion.

“Most of the money that’s going to Ukraine is actually going to be spent in this country to replenish our stockpile that has been sent over there. So, it truly is not only supporting Ukraine, but it’s making our military stronger,” Tester said Feb. 5. He is the only member of Montana’s delegation who has consistently voted to provide arms to Ukraine.

Daines voted against the aid bill, which had been cleaved from a settlement package that a week earlier included $20 billion to address the immigration crises on the U.S-Mexico border, which Daines also opposed, calling the border a President Joe Biden problem that didn’t need congressional action.

Tuesday, Daines said he rejected the bill aiding Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan because of the southern border.

“While I support providing lethal aid for Israel, Taiwan and Ukraine, I voted against the emergency supplemental spending bill today because securing our southern border should be our highest priority.”

Tuesday’s vote wasn’t the first time Daines expressed support for lethal aid to Ukraine while also voting against it. Daines voted against providing weapons to Ukraine twice in 2022, and again last week. In each case the rejected aid was part of bills that funded other things, including two federal budget bills to keep government fully functioning and last week the immigration crisis on the U.S. Mexico border.

Tester has consistently supported the lethal and economic aid for Ukraine defense, with the exception of a Daines bill in March 2022 that attempted to put $14 billion in Ukraine aid to a standalone vote, something sought by Republicans who at that point supported the Ukraine’s defense but opposed an omnibus bill providing short-term funding of the federal government.

Following the Senate vote, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin urged the House lawmakers not only take up the supplemental aid bill, but also approve the delayed, full-year funding bill for the Department of Defense.

“Only one country can provide the leadership that this moment demands—and that’s the United States of America,” Austin said. “The dangers of our time will only grow worse without strong and steady American leadership. If we do not deter other would-be aggressors, we will only invite more aggression, bloodshed, and chaos. So the cost of American leadership remains far lower than the cost of American abdication and retreat.”