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SALT LAKE CITY — The Senate overwhelmingly approved a resolution to ratify membership for Sweden and Finland in NATO, with Utah's two Republican senators joining the majority.
NATO formalized its invitation to the two Scandinavian countries to join the alliance at the end of June, a move aimed at strengthening the defense bloc amid Russia's war in Ukraine. The decision now goes to the 30 member states for final ratification.
President Joe Biden sent protocols for ratification to the Senate in July. The final vote, which needed a two-thirds majority to pass, was 95-1. Only Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., voted against the resolution, while Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., voted present.
"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," Biden said in a statement about Wednesday's vote.
Utah Sen. Mitt Romney said expanding NATO sends a message to Russian President Vladimir Putin and other autocrats with similar malevolent ambitions that the treaty is strong.
In a speech on the Senate floor ahead of the vote, Romney said he "heartily" supports the admission of Sweden and Finland to the alliance.
"Throughout our nation's history, the United States has not once ratified NATO protocols with a reservation. Now should be no different. Doing so could send the wrong message to the people of Ukraine and to our other friends and allies. It could even be propagandized as a nod to Putin," he said.
Expanding @NATO sends a message to Putin, and other autocrats with similar malevolent ambitions, that our transatlantic alliance is strong and unified in maintaining global order and security. Proud to join my Senate colleagues in voting for Sweden & Finland's accession to NATO.— Senator Mitt Romney (@SenatorRomney) August 3, 2022
Initially tepid on NATO membership for the two nations, Lee voted in favor of the resolution.
"Finland and Sweden have functioning, well-funded militaries that will be an asset to the alliance on day one. I remain committed to reclaiming the people's right to congressional oversight regarding military force and ensuring our allies fulfill their promises. I expect Finland and Sweden to do so," he said in a statement.
Politico reported in May that Lee was undecided on Finland and Sweden joining NATO and was considering the arguments on both sides. He voted against the $40 billion aid package for Ukraine.
On Wednesday, Lee was one of 10 GOP senators who voted for a failed Paul amendment that sought to emphasize that Article 5 of the NATO treaty does not supersede Congress' ability to declare war.
Today, I voted to ratify the accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO. pic.twitter.com/BEE0qtxgcu— Mike Lee (@SenMikeLee) August 3, 2022
Romney opposed the amendment, calling it unnecessary because provisions in the treaty are carried out in accordance with the members' respective constitutional processes.
"The world is watching to see if there are any cracks in that commitment, particularly with respect to its provisions for mutual defense. We must not in any way appear to be going wobbly on Article 5. I fear that the Paul amendment would do just that," he said.
Lee also said he would continue to push for his Allied Burden Sharing Report Act, a bill that would require the Defense Department to submit a report that includes the common defense contributions of NATO countries and other defense partners.
For the alliance to be strong, effective and trustworthy, all parties must keep their spending promises, not just the United States, he said in March 2021 after reintroducing the legislation. He said it would help ensure that all parties are pulling their weight in their defense partnerships.
Politico also noted in May that Lee and Paul were the only two senators who voted against North Macedonia in 2019 and Montenegro in 2017 joining NATO. Both have expressed some skepticism over the years about NATO.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on the Senate floor Wednesday that Sweden and Finland joining NATO will "only strengthen the most successful military alliance in human history."
McConnell also used his floor time to take aim at lawmakers who do not support the resolution, per CNN.
"If any senator is looking for a defensible excuse to vote no, I wish them good luck," he said. "This is a slam dunk for national security that deserves unanimous bipartisan support."
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said the vote is important for American security around the world.
"Finland's and Sweden's membership will strengthen NATO even further and is all the more urgent given Russian aggression, given Putin's immoral and unjustified war in Ukraine. Putin is strengthening the NATO alliance, and nothing shows it better than the vote we will have this afternoon," he said on the Senate floor.
Hawley, the lone nay vote on the Senate resolution, questioned whether expanding NATO is in the best interest of the United States.
"Because that's what American foreign policy is supposed to be about," he said on the floor Wednesday. "Our foreign policy should be about protecting the United States, our freedom, our people, and our way of life, and expanding NATO, I believe, would not do that."