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Citing devastation in Gaza, Sanders and Welch oppose aid package for Ukraine and Israel

Apr 24, 2024

After a monthslong journey, the bill cleared the Senate by a vote of 79 to 18. The two Vermonters were among only three progressives to oppose it.

Peter Welch, left, and Bernie Sanders. File photos by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

The U.S. Senate voted by a wide margin Tuesday night to send a $95 billion foreign aid package to President Joe Biden for his signature. 

But among those who opposed it were Vermont’s two delegates to the U.S. Senate: Bernie Sanders, an independent, and Peter Welch, a Democrat.

The sprawling bill would provide close to $61 billion in military aid to Ukraine; more than $26 billion in military aid to Israel and humanitarian assistance for Palestinians; and more than $8 billion to Taiwan and other U.S. allies in order to counter China. It also includes a grab bag of other provisions intended to secure Republican support, such as a ban on TikTok if the social media app continues to be controlled by a Chinese company. 

After a monthslong journey through the halls of Congress, the bill cleared the Senate by a vote of 79 to 18. Those who voted against it included 15 conservative Republicans and three progressives who caucus with the Democrats: Sanders, Welch and Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore. All three opposed a similar version of the bill in February. 

In explaining their votes Tuesday, Sanders and Welch cited the mounting death toll in the Gaza Strip, where the Israeli military has been fighting Hamas for half a year, and they continued to criticize the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. 

Calling it a “dark day” in the U.S. Senate, Sanders said in a written statement that he had opposed the package “for one simple reason.” American taxpayers, he said, “should not be providing billions more to the extremist Netanyahu government to continue its devastating war against the Palestinian people.”

Noting that the war had destroyed housing, infrastructure and the health care and education systems in Gaza, Sanders said, “Enough is enough. No more money for Netanyahu’s war machine.”

Sanders had earlier sought to amend the bill to remove military funding for Israel and restrictions on Palestinian aid, but those efforts were rebuffed. Had the bill been amended, it would have had to return to the U.S. House, from which it barely emerged last weekend. 

Welch similarly argued in a written statement that “sending Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government the munitions it is using to destroy Gaza is wrong and inconsistent with our foreign policy goals.” 

“We need to stop financing a war strategy that was deeply flawed from the beginning,” he said.

Welch made clear that he supported other provisions in the bill. “I repeat unequivocally today: if the funding for Ukraine were put to a separate vote, it would earn my support without hesitation,” he said. 

Though Sanders and Welch both opposed the underlying bill, they split on a key procedural vote earlier Tuesday. Welch voted in favor of “cloture,” which brings debate to a close and allows for a vote on a bill, while Sanders voted against it.  

That’s consistent with how the two have approached similar procedural votes on other measures that would have funded both Ukrainian and Israeli war efforts. Last December and again in February, Sanders voted against cloture while Welch voted for it. 

According to Welch spokesperson Aaron White, the senator’s vote for the procedural motion Tuesday “was not a reflection of his support of the legislation, but of his hope the Senate would live up to its reputation as the world’s greatest deliberative body.”

Vermont’s third member of Congress, U.S. Rep. Becca Balint, a Democrat, also weighed in on the aid packagerecently, but she did not have to cast an up-or-down vote. In order to move the bill through a closely divided House, Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., split it into four pieces, giving members the opportunity to support some parts but not others. 

Balint voted against aid to Israel and for aid to Ukraine and Taiwan, as well as for the miscellaneous measure that included the TikTok ban. Balint opposed a procedural vote that brought the package to the House floor in the first place. 

Story Written by Paul Heintz, VTDigger

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