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McConnell says the Senate will pass the largest Ukraine aid package yet on Wednesday

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who led a delegation of Senate Republicans to meet with Ukrainian President Zelenskyy in Kyiv on Saturday said he expected the Senate to approve a $40 billion aid package for Ukraine on Wednesday.

McConnell said he supported adding Russia to the list of state sponsors of terrorism and would back holding a vote on the issue, but urged President Biden to do it on his own.

Speaking from Stockholm, McConnell also said he supported Finland and Sweden joining NATO: "I think the United States ought to be first in line to ratify the treaty for both these countries to join."

McConnell pushed back on those in his party who were arguing that the U.S. should not be spending billions to send weapons and security assistanceto Ukraine.

McConnell said aid to Ukraine is "in America's interest." He added, "This is not some handout. This is to prevent a ruthless thug from beginning a march through Europe, and the first place to stop him is in Ukraine, and that's what we're determined to do."

He also responded to some GOP figures who have criticized the current U.S. role in Ukraine. "There have always been isolationist voices in the Republican Party, and there were prior to World War II, and that's perfectly alright," McConnell said. "This is a debate worth having. It's an important subject. And I think one of the lessons we learned from World War II is not standing up to aggression early. It's a huge mistake."

In terms of those on the political right saying the U.S. should focus resources on the southern border, McConnell said, it's not "an either/or proposition."

Asked about Kentucky GOP Sen. Rand Paul holding up the vote on aid last week, McConnell said, "It's no secret Rand and I hold different world views." He added, "we'll get the job done by Wednesday."

McConnell said there was no way to know how long the $40 billion package would last, but said he expected it to provide support for a "significant period of time." The Biden administration first pitched its version of the aid package, which was initially smaller, to last through the current fiscal year ending on Sept. 30.

The Kentucky Republican said he planned to give President Biden a rundown on his trip when he returned to the U.S.

In an interview with NPR on Thursday, McConnell said he thought the administration's handling of Ukraine had improved after intially thinking it was too "tentative," while indicating he remained in close touch with Biden.

The GOP leader said he suggested that the White House accept separating Ukraine aid from more controversial aid for the COVID-19 response, and when he reached out to the White House, McConnell said Biden "called me back in 15 minutes."

"So we're all on the same team on this," McConnell also told NPR. "The Russians need to lose. The Ukrainians need to win."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.