Weeks before the midterm elections that could give the GOP full control of Congress, the GOP’s internal dispute over how long it should keep U.S. assistance flowing to war-ravaged Ukraine is becoming public.
The likely speaker of the GOP House in 2014, Kevin McCarthy, Minority Leader of the GOP House, suggested this week that he would reduce U.S. funding to Ukraine’s fight against Russia. This wasn’t the first hint to the Biden Administration that Republican legislators are wary of continuing financial support for Kyiv. McCarthy’s remarks only increased the urgency to approve a Ukraine aid package for December before the California Republican takes over the House.
The comments of the GOP leader drew sharp, but subtle, criticisms from parts of the party that didn’t want to abandon fiscal support for Ukraine’s war effort. Former Vice President Mike Pence used Wednesday’s speech to criticize Republicans who “would like us to disengage from the wider world”. He then went to Fox News to urge his party to continue Ukraine aid.
President Joe Biden faces a difficult task with the murky picture of a divided GOP. Should his administration front-load more Ukraine assistance in a must-pass spending bill for the year? This would avoid any public jockeying between Republicans and Democrats over future funding?
Biden’s aides think that McCarthy will not blink and keep the funnel open for Ukraine, at least temporarily, although he may insist on smaller numbers. They forecast that Republicans will exert pressure on them internally, some from House members such as Brian Fitzpatrick ( ), and more from the Senate, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell(). This is to keep the money flowing.
Their reasoning is that if the money stops, a political backlash would make the GOP lose its support. Ukraine lost, and Russia won.
There are signs that the White House might have some allies or even sympathetic ears in this Congress. Fitzpatrick was one of the first to take issue with McCarthy’s remarks to Punchbowl News that U.S. aid shouldn’t be “a blank cheque.”
“Nobody is talking about a blank cheque. Fitzpatrick stated in an interview that it’s what Ukraine needs. This is a historical event where war fatigue sets in and this is the biggest risk. Vladimir Putin believes that this is a historical fact. It’s unlikely that the paper will continue to be the main page. People will forget about it, and genocide in the dark will occur. That is what we are trying to stop.”
It is clear that Republicans are split between the McCarthy camp, which opposes more multi-billion dollar boosts for Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zilenskyy, as the U.S. economy spirals into recession, and the McConnell camp. The McConnell camp continues to support additional aid. Rep. Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican, made this week his preference clear by calling for continued arms transfers and military assistance.
McCaul stated to Bloomberg TV that the Ukrainians win when they are given what they need.
Conservatives like Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), meanwhile, dominate the tighten-the-pursestrings camp. stated that McCarthy’s position on Ukraine aid was more responsible than Roy, a House Freedom Caucus Member who often takes a hardline against federal spending.
The White House has not yet indicate whether the latest GOP yellow light changes any of its plans to a post-election legislative Sprint that could be its last chance at frontloading more Ukraine aid in a must pass government spending bill.
Administration officials are also ready for the moment when congressional funding will be cut, as they know that war funding cannot continue indefinitely. Although there have been some preliminary discussions about the possibility of passing an aid package in the lame duck session, if the GOP wins the House, nothing has been finalized.
POLITICO was told by a spokesperson for the National Security Council that the administration will continue to ask Congress to help Kyiv defeat Moscow “for as long it takes,” echoing President Joe Biden’s similar pledge at the NATO summit earlier this year.
The White House has not sent a warning to Ukraine about possible aid cuts if Republicans win control of at least one congressional chamber in January. White House officials said that Kyiv was aware of this possibility. Zelenskyy, his top advisors, tried to lobby Democrats as well as Republicans to continue funding the war even though it drags on and there are growing concerns about a global recession.
Both Republicans and Democrats want more oversight and accountability for the U.S.’s weapons and equipment sent to Ukraine. They want more European countries to support the U.S. so it doesn’t bear the whole burden. Many GOP lawmakers worry that the Donald Trump-inspired base of elected Republicans is driving them to abandon Ukraine.
McCarthy is supported by dozens of House Republicans, 57 of which voted against the $40 billion aid package in May. Recent polling has also shown a decline in GOP support for Ukraine funding. A September Pew Research poll revealed that 33% of Republicans think the U.S. provides too much support to Ukraine, compared to just 9% at the start of the war.
Others insist that the U.S. can pursue its national security interests while not turning a blind ear to challenges from stateside.
Fitzpatrick added, “It’s going be uncertain in Congress, with potentially divided government. How difficult it’s going be to sustain our support to Ukraine.” “This is not the time to stop our assistance.
The White House is under pressure from Democrats who view the December funding run as the last chance to support the Ukrainian military until the end of the war.
Some Democrats believe that Zelenskyy’s government may not have enough information in December to be able to determine the types of weapons and equipment it will need to fight the winter. The $12 billion stopgap funding bill for Ukraine last month was $12 billion. Lawmakers were anticipating that additional aid would not be needed until 2023.
“It is possible that the administration will not have any choice but to request more money in December,” stated Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a loyal ally of the White House. “But this might not be the best time for Ukraine. This is a new world with Republicans openly stating that they plan to give Ukraine to Putin.
Murphy warned that the impact on Ukraine’s planning was “potentially seismic”, possibly causing Zelenskyy to make decisions now, if they believe that McCarthy or House Republicans will cut and run against them in January.
McCarthy’s position on the issue is indicative of growing concern about the stability and effectiveness of the Western alliance in its support for Ukraine and enforcement sanctions against Russia. Far-right leaders in Europe have expressed concern about maintaining the war effort. They cited economic pain at home, which was fueled in part, by rising energy prices, as well as the U.S.-led sanctions against Moscow.
The U.S. allies are still optimistic about Capitol Hill’s current dynamics, at least publicly. Kristjan Prikk, Estonia’s ambassador to the United States, stated that he had been assured by several members of Congress that there was strong support for continuing the aid to Ukraine.
Alexander Ward contributed reporting.