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Sanders, Welch break with Democrats to vote ‘no’ on Israel, Ukraine aid package

Feb 13, 2024

In the wee hours of Tuesday morning, Vermont’s two U.S. senators voted against a $95 billion spending package slated to dispense billions of dollars in aid to foreign allies, including Israel and Ukraine.

Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Peter Welch, D-Vt., cited Israel’s ongoing war against Hamas, in which more than 28,000 Palestinians have been killed, as the reason for their opposition. The Senate handily passed the bill with bipartisan support in a 70-29 vote. U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., was the only other Democratic caucus member to vote ‘no.’

“This bill provides (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu $10 billion more in unrestricted military aid for his horrific war against the Palestinian people,” Sanders tweeted late Monday night, ahead of the vote. “That is unconscionable.”

In addition to $14 billion slated for Israel, the $95 billion package would allocate money to other U.S. national security priorities, including $60 billion in aid to Ukraine for its defense against Russia, $9 billion in humanitarian aid to war-torn regions like Gaza and Ukraine, and nearly $5 billion to Indo-Pacific allies such as Taiwan.

“I unequivocally support Ukraine,” Welch said in a Tuesday morning statement. “I regret that the funding for Ukraine was packaged with the military aid for Israel, which I oppose.”

Last week, Welch split with Sanders in a failed procedural vote to begin debating a different, $118 billion bill, which married foreign aid funding with new restrictions at the U.S. southern border. At the time, Sanders cited the $10 billion in aid for Israel for his opposition, while Welch insisted that the Senate should at least debate the bill — especially after Republicans’ months-long push for action at the southern border.

The latest conflict between Israel and Hamas erupted on Oct. 7, when Hamas killed approximately 1,200 Israelis and took hundreds more hostage in the deadliest terrorist attack in Israel’s history. Since then, Vermont’s congressional delegation — Sanders, Welch and U.S. Rep. Becca Balint, D-Vt. — have repeatedly said that Israel has a right to exist and defend itself.

But as the war has waged on, around 2 million Palestinian civilians, nearly half of them under the age of 18, have been caught in the crossfire and subjected to air raids, ground invasion, mass evacuation, starvation and disease. Both Welch and Balint have called for an indefinite cease-fire in the conflict. While Sanders has held firm that there is nothing “magical” about the word cease-fire, he has advocated for squeezing Israel dry of its billions in U.S. aid until the nation changes its war tactics.

Welch, too, has decried the use of U.S. taxpayer dollars to fund what he calls “Prime Minister Netanyahu’s relentless bombing campaign in Gaza.” After voting ‘no’ on the foreign aid bill Tuesday morning, Welch said in a written statement that “we all want Hamas gone,” and “Israel has every right to go after those responsible” for the Oct. 7 attack.

“But this war plan, which has decimated Gaza through relentless, indiscriminate bombing of civilian infrastructure, has created an intolerable humanitarian crisis,” Welch continued. “The fact that Hamas uses Palestinians as human shields does not give Israel license to lay waste to Gaza and kill thousands of innocent people who had nothing to do with the October 7th attack.”

The security package now heads to the politically chaotic U.S. House, where its fate is uncertain. Reached Tuesday morning, Balint spokesperson Sophie Pollock told VTDigger that Balint has to review the bill before taking a firm position on how she will vote, but, “We’re not sure whether or not it would even be under consideration in the House at this point.”

As for the broader question of Balint’s stance on dispensing U.S. aid to Israel at all, Pollock said it’s “package-dependent.” She pointed to a vote cast earlier this month in the U.S. House, where Balint voted against what she called “Israel-only” bill that did “nothing to aid the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, bring security to the region or protect Ukrainian sovereignty.”

“Congress must act to support democratic allies around the world. This is an urgent matter of delivering resources and relief to real people suffering,” Balint said in a written statement on Feb. 6. “However, Republicans have chosen to elevate this piece of standalone legislation, again showing their willingness to hand (Russian President Vladimir) Putin a strategic win and ignore the dire crisis in Gaza. I will vote ‘no’ on this type of cynical legislation until a comprehensive aid package is brought to the floor.”

Story Written by Sarah Mearhoff, VTDigger

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