Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s visit to Washington, D.C., this week comes at a critical crossroads for his alliance with the U.S. as GOP leaders in Congress diverge on how to send more humanitarian and military aid to the country.
President Joe Biden is seeking another $24 billion in humanitarian aid and security, in line with his promise to help the country for “as long as it takes” to remove Russia from its borders.
However, ratifying the president’s request is deeply uncertain because of an increasing partisan divide in Congress about how to proceed.
GOP Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy has told reporters that he wants more aid to Ukraine to be debated as a stand-alone bill on its own merits instead of attaching it to other priorities like government funding.
But leaders in the Senate have other ideas. They want to combine the aid to Ukraine with different priorities, including a short-term spending bill that will likely be needed to avoid a shutdown at the end of the month.
The differing approaches threaten to lead to a stalemate that could easily delay further rounds of American assistance to Ukraine, which raises the stakes for President Zelenskyy as he makes his first visit to the United States since his surprise Congressional address at the end of 2022. In the speech, Zelenskyy thanked “every American” for supporting Ukraine.
Nine months later, with the GOP now in control of the majority in the House, voters are growing wary about continued support for Ukraine as Russia has turned its invasion into a lengthy and costly war of attrition.
In Congress, the skepticism is concentrated among House Republican members, where many share former President Trump’s “America First” approach and want to stop the aid entirely.
So far, the U.S. has approved four rounds of aid to Ukraine in response to the Russian invasion, totaling $113 billion. Some money has gone toward replenishing U.S. military equipment sent to the frontlines. Most members of the Senate and House support the aid, viewing the defense of Ukraine and its democracy as internationally imperative.
Speaker McCarthy emphasized the need for oversight
Speaker McCarthy has stressed the necessity for oversight of Ukrainian assistance but has also been critical of Russia, which criticizes the country’s “killing of children” in a speech this summer. However, he has been juggling a desire to help Ukraine with the political realities at home, which includes demands from several in his party to cut government spending.
Attaching aid to Ukraine to other crucial matters could improve the odds of quickly passing it. Some lawmakers could be more inclined to vote for assistance to Ukraine if it gets included with disaster relief for the legislators’ home states.
However, the maneuver would also deeply split House Republicans and is sure to enrage critics of McCarthy who continue to threaten to remove him from the speakership.
“I don’t know why they would want to put that onto a CR,” said McCarthy, using abbreviations for a short-term continuing resolution that keeps agencies funded. “I think it should be discussed on its own.”
In the meantime, Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell has put aid to Ukraine at the top of his to-do list and has been speaking from the floor of the Senate for weeks about the urgency he sees to act.
Last week, he brought in inspectors general to brief Republican senators on how U.S. aid is being tracked to address concerns about fraud and waste. In one of his Senate floor speeches, McConnell responded to critics who say the United States has borne too much of the burden on Ukraine by indicating the assistance also flows from European nations.
“In fact, when it comes to security assistance to Ukraine as a share of GDP, 14 of our European allies are actually giving more,” said McConnell.
Democrat Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and McConnell have called for senators to meet on Thursday morning with Zelenskyy.
GOP Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina said he believes aid should be provided as soon as possible, and it will not likely be a stand-alone bill.
“I, for one, think we ought to go ahead and get it done,” said Tillis. “We have to get the Ukraine funding done in a time that doesn’t produce a lapse, at least a perceived lapse, because I think that’s a strategic win for Putin, and I don’t ever want Putin to have a strategic win.”
However, Republican Representative Ken Calvert of California warned against adding aid to Ukraine to the short-term spending bill. He said the focus must first remain on passing an overall defense spending bill and other spending bills.
“We can’t divert attention outside of that,” said Calvert. “There’s significant munitions within Ukraine right now, I think, to get through the end of the year.”
Mike Garcia, Republican Representative of California, said he’s not necessarily opposed to more Ukrainian assistance. However, the average American does not know how the war is going, with the average Congressional member unable to say either.
“Tell us what you’re doing with the money, and let’s have a debate on the floor about this funding and not ramming it down our throats,” said Garcia.
House Republicans hope to bring a stopgap spending bill that doesn’t include Biden’s aid package for Ukraine.