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Harry Reid accuses GOP of helping Russia annex Crimea as Ukraine aid deal clears procedural hurdle

A bipartisan proposal to provide more than $1 billion in aid to the new Ukrainian government survived a procedural vote in the Senate Monday evening, setting it up for final passage later this week.

A bill providing economic assistance to Ukraine and imposing sanctions against Russia cleared a procedural hurdle in the Senate on Monday. (Reuters)


But the vote came after Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) suggested that Republicans may have helped Russia annex Crimea by delaying the vote.

Reid made the comments in remarks that reopened the Senate after a week-long break. He urged GOP senators to consider how their decision affects U.S. national security and that further delay "sent a dangerous message to Russian leaders."

"Since a few Republicans blocked these important sanctions last work period, Russian lawmakers voted to annex Crimea and Russian forces have taken over Ukrainian military bases," Reid said. "It's impossible to know whether events would have unfolded differently if the United States had responded to Russian aggression with a strong, unified voice."

The comments came just a few hours before senators voted 78 to 17 to proceed with debate on the aid package. All the votes in opposition came from Republicans, most of whom are concerned that the package includes changes to how the U.S. provides money for the International Monetary Fund.

In response to Reid's comments, Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said the Senate leader "sounds completely unhinged."

"The House has acted, and is continuing to act, in a reasonable and responsible way to give the White House the tools it needs to hold President Putin accountable," Steel said.

Even if the Senate had approved its aid package before the break, the House had passed a different proposal that doesn't include language dealing with the IMF and the differences wouldn't have been sorted out before the recess.

The Senate's proposed aid package would provide $1 billion in loan guarantees for Ukraine and impose sanctions on Russian and Ukrainian officials involved in starting the standoff between the two countries. The agreement would authorize $50 million for democracy, governance and civil society assistance and $100 million in security assistance for Ukraine and other countries in the region.

But the deal also includes changes long-sought by the White House that would shift about $63 billion in IMF money from a crisis fund to a general account. Doing so would make good on a 2010 pledge by the Obama administration and ensure greater U.S. influence over the world body.

Several Republican senators are opposed to including changes to the IMF in the aid deal. Several of them wrote a letter last week outlining their opposition, saying the IMF provisions are "antithetical to the driving purpose of the underlying legislation." They also said they are concerned that U.S. contributions to the IMF would double "yet actually undermine our influence in that body in a manner that provides no actual relief to Ukraine."

But Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), lead sponsor of the aid deal, reminded colleagues before the vote that Republican and Democratic presidents have long considered the IMF an essential part of the global financial system.

"These efforts combined send a message to the world, that the annexation of Crimea will not stand," Menendez said. "We are at a dangerous moment in history, with global consequences, and the world is watching."

Final passage of the aid deal is expected later this week, according to senior Senate aides.

Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.



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