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The Senate passed a bill with Ukraine aid. Biden urges the House to do the same

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The U.S. Senate pulled an all-nighter last night and, just after 5 o’clock this morning, finally passed a foreign aid package that would send billions to Ukraine. A few hours later at the White House, President Biden urged the House to do the same.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: This bipartisan bill sends a clear message to Ukrainians and to our partners and to our allies around the world. America can be trusted. America can be relied upon. And America stands up for freedom. We stand strong for our allies. We never bow down to anyone and certainly not to Vladimir Putin.

KELLY: Well, leading work on this bill for months is our next guest, Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy. Senator Murphy, welcome.

CHRIS MURPHY: Thanks for having me.

KELLY: In the end, 22 Republicans voted with most Democrats to pass this bill. What was the key in getting those Republicans to vote yes?

MURPHY: Well, ultimately, I think they understand that the state of the world is at stake. I just don't think it's hyperbolic to talk about the stakes being nothing less than potentially World War III because if Vladimir Putin owns Ukraine, there is a real possibility he will move on to a NATO country that would drag the United States into a direct confrontation with Russia. And China would also start to move faster in their plans to take over smaller neighboring nations, potentially drawing the United States into a direct conflict with China.

So in the end, Republicans in the Senate, just enough of them, saw those stakes as being serious enough to drop their prior objections and support this funding. The question is whether the speaker of the House will bring this for a vote. I think it has the votes in the House. I'm sure it has the votes in the House to pass if he brings it up, and that's what we'll all be waiting for in the coming days and weeks.

KELLY: Well, let's stay there for a minute because, as you note, the speaker, Mike Johnson, does not sound inclined to schedule a vote in the House. He says the House will not pass a foreign aid bill unless it includes border provisions. Do you have any reason to doubt he means it?

MURPHY: Well, it's really curious to me because that's what he said a few months ago. And so we went to work in the Senate. We actually spent four months writing and coming to a compromise on a bipartisan border deal that gave the president brand-new powers to control the number of people who are crossing at the border. We did that because that's what Republicans in the Senate and the House told us that they needed in order to pass this bill.

KELLY: Yeah.

MURPHY: But at the last minute, Donald Trump opposed that compromise. He wants chaos at the border. And Republicans abandoned that compromise, voted for the Ukraine bill without the border provisions attached. And now we hear that Speaker Johnson, having led the fight to kill the border provisions that were supported by both Republicans and Democrats, now is complaining that the bill doesn't have border provisions. It's a very bizarre situation to find ourselves in. If he wanted a bill with border provisions, then he should have supported the bipartisan border security bill that...

KELLY: OK, OK. But we are...

MURPHY: ...We even asked (ph).

KELLY: Forgive me. We are where we are. If the House doesn't take this up, as the speaker says they're not going to, what is plan B?

MURPHY: That really is a question for Republicans. You know, we have followed their playbook. When they told us that they needed these - this border bill attached to the Ukraine bill, we did that. If they are not prepared to take this bipartisan Senate compromise, I think we'll have to listen to House Republicans as to what comes next. The problem is we don't have time. Ukraine is literally running out of ammunition as we speak. The battle lines are going to move pretty quickly this spring if funding isn't approved in the next 30 days.

KELLY: Having spent all these months on this, are you going to be working the phone to Republicans in the House? Is there any role for you there?

MURPHY: I'm not sure. Again, I - my utility as part of this process was to try to find a bipartisan path forward on the border. If that's what Republicans in the House want, then sign me up. I just think I've come to the conclusion that Republicans like to complain about the border but actually don't want to solve it in the end.

KELLY: That's quite something to say. I mean, I suppose that prompts me to ask a bigger question. Does it feel like all the negotiating all these months was worth it? Like, what's the point of working across the aisle in the Senate if you pass a bill and then it goes to the House and dies?

MURPHY: Well, I certainly haven't accepted that this bill is going to die. It may be that a different version of it passes the House of Representatives, but I think by passing this Ukraine funding bill with 70 bipartisan votes, that's a pretty big bipartisan majority in the Senate. We put some real pressure on the House to take this bill or a bill that looks like it up. I am upset, heartbroken, really, at the fact that we spent all of this time coming up with a solution to our southern border, which is a real problem - we just can't handle 10,000 people crossing on a day - and that it was so summarily rejected by Republicans.

I do believe, ultimately, that Republicans have kind of become addicted to the issue of border as a political issue. They don't really want to solve it and, when confronted with an opportunity to do it, just can't get it over the finish line. But I don't think it was all for naught. I think ultimately, our attempt at passing this border bill got Republicans to the point where they eventually supported a clean Ukraine funding bill, and my hope is that the House will do the same.

KELLY: And just one more, to circle back to Ukraine - is there other help the United States can offer? Are there other things the U.S. can do, can share if this money is not forthcoming and forthcoming fast?

MURPHY: Not that will help Ukraine win this war. I mean, ultimately, the administration has run out of tricks up its sleeve. We can't transfer more of our own equipment without seriously undermining our own security. So there really is not a plan B. Europe doesn't have the equipment that the United States does. This war cannot be won without the United States being at the table. It cannot be won without a new supplemental appropriation made by Congress. That's plan A, B and C right now. We've got to get this done.

KELLY: That is Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat from Connecticut. Senator, thanks for your time.

MURPHY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Kai McNamee
Justine Kenin
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.