(WASHINGTON) — The U.S. Senate approved a resolution Wednesday evening to support Finland and Sweden in joining NATO — a crucial step in the quest of the two countries to join the 30-member alliance.
The Senate voted 95-1, with Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley voting no and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., voting “present.”
The vote comes several weeks after the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved admitting Finland and Sweden into NATO. Lawmakers were working to approve the matter before their August break.
Finland and Sweden announced their decision to formally join NATO within days of each other in May, ending long-held positions of neutrality in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. They simultaneously submitted their applications on May 18.
All 30 NATO members must ratify the accession of the two countries. Seven countries remain.
During Wednesday’s vote, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., took a veiled swipe at Paul and Hawley in a floor speech, saying, “Their accession will make NATO stronger and America more secure. If any senator is looking for a defensible excuse to vote no, I wish them good luck.”
Hawley aligned himself with former President Donald Trump, saying the U.S. could devote more funds and firepower to NATO “or do what we need to do to deter Asia and China. We cannot do both.”
Paul has always worked to keep the U.S. out of foreign conflicts. He offered an amendment that most rejected seeking to ensure that Congress’ role in authorizing military force would not be usurped by the NATO pact’s common defense commitment, known as Article 5.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., applauded the Senate’s vote, saying on Twitter that it is “all the more urgent given [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s barbaric, immoral and unjustified war in Ukraine.”
President Joe Biden thanked a number of senators, including Schumer and McConnell, for moving the ratification process along quickly.
“This historic vote sends an important signal of the sustained, bipartisan U.S. commitment to NATO, and to ensuring our Alliance is prepared to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow,” the president said in a statement.
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