With August recess just a week away, the Senate still has one big item on its to-do list: approving Finland and Sweden’s request to join NATO.
Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., is pushing for a vote to enlarge the alliance before senators return to their home states for a month-long break expected to begin Aug. 8, a Senate aide said
“It’s been pushed into a big bucket of items the majority leader wants to get done before August recess,” the aide said. “Leadership is committed to making it possible before August recess.”
NATO took the first steps to welcome Finland and Sweden on June 29 at the alliance’s annual summit in Madrid. Since then, the governments of 19 NATO countries, including Canada, the United Kingdom, and Germany, have ratified the two countries joining NATO. Eleven nations, including the United States, have yet to take action, despite calls from Democrats and Republicans to quickly approve the additions.
“There is now nothing preventing the Democratic leader from calling these measures up for immediate consideration and passage by the full Senate,” Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday on the Senate floor. “The United States would be fortunate to have two new treaty allies as impressive and capable as Finland and Sweden.”
The Senate is the legislative body that must consider and vote on the expansion of NATO, but the House approved a symbolic resolution this month by a wide bipartisan margin to support Finland and Sweden joining the alliance. Only 18 Republicans voted against the proposal.
The expansion of NATO to include Finland and Sweden is expected to garner similarly broad bipartisan support in the Senate. At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee meeting last week, lawmakers agreed to send the resolution to the floor with the support of all senators except Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who voted “present” rather than voting yes or no.
“My perception…and conclusion has gone from adamantly against expansion to I will vote ‘present’ today,” Paul, who was one of two senators to oppose admitting Montenegro to NATO in 2017, said ahead of the vote. “I do not presently think it is a good idea. I think there still are some advantages to Finland and Sweden being neutral.”
Approving the resolution does not require unanimous consent. While one senator can not stop the process or put a hold on considering the resolution like they could with a nominee, a lawmaker could act to significantly slow the Senate’s consideration process under an already tight timeline.
Another senator who could potentially stall the process is Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, who also opposed NATO expansion when Montenegro joined the alliance, saying that admitting that nation has “risks [that] could outweigh the benefits to the detriment of the American people and result in more of our service-members being deployed overseas and at risk.”
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., told Politico in May that he is “not an automatic yes,” on accepting Finland and Sweden.
Paul, Lee, and Hawley’s office did not respond to a request on how they intend to vote. All three, plus eight other GOP senators, voted against the $40 billion Ukrainian aid package in May.