WASHINGTON (AP) — Ukraine supporters in Congress say they won’t give up after this a bill to keep the federal government open ruled out President Joe Biden’s request to provide more security aid to the war-torn nation.
Still, many lawmakers recognize that winning support in Congress to support Ukraine will become increasingly difficult over time War between Russia and Ukraine keeps crunching. Republican opposition to the aid has gained momentum in the halls of Congress.
Last week’s vote in the House of Representatives highlighted the potential problems ahead. Nearly half of House Republicans voted to cut $300 million from a defense spending bill to train Ukrainian soldiers and buy weapons. The money was later approved separately, but opponents of support for Ukraine celebrated their growing numbers.
Then on Saturday, California House Speaker Kevin McCarthy waived additional aid to Ukraine to keep the government running until November 17. In doing so, he closed the door on a Senate package that would have raised $6 billion for Ukraine, about a third of what was requested by the White House. Both the House and Senate overwhelmingly approved the emergency measure, with members of both parties forgoing increased aid to Ukraine to avoid a costly government shutdown.
The recent actions in Congress signal a gradual shift in the unwavering support the United States has so far pledged to Ukraine in the fight against Russia, and are one of the clearest examples yet of the Republican Party’s move toward a more isolationist stance. The exclusion of Ukraine funding came little more than a week later Lawmakers met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the Capitolwho sought to reassure lawmakers that his military would win the war, but stressed that additional aid was crucial to continuing the fight.
After that visit, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said one sentence summed up Zelensky’s message in his meeting with the Senate: “‘If we don’t get the help, we’re going to lose the war,'” Schumer said.
Yet McCarthy, under pressure from his right flank, has moved from saying “no blank checks” for Ukraine, with an emphasis on accountability, to describing the Senate’s approach as putting “Ukraine before America.” . He declined to say after the government funding vote whether he would put the aid to Ukraine up for a House vote in the coming weeks.
“If there is a moment where we need to have a discussion about it, we will have a discussion about it, but I think the government needs to commit to this, which is a victory,” McCarthy said.
Biden said in a statement after Congress averted a shutdown that “under no circumstances can we allow American support for Ukraine to be disrupted.” He called on McCarthy to “remain true to his commitment to the Ukrainian people.” and “enforce the support needed to help Ukraine at this critical moment.”
In the Senate, both Schumer and Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky vowed to act quickly to try to pass the White House’s full proposal. But it was clear the goal would become increasingly difficult as more rank-and-file Republican senators questioned the aid or demanded that it be tied to immigration policies that would help secure the southern border – and repeated similar calls in the House.
Florida Sen. Rick Scott, a Republican who voted for the spending bill after cutting aid to Ukraine, said Congress needs to have “a conversation with the American public.” He said he was optimistic after seeing the money taken off the bill.
“In my state, people want to help Ukraine, but they also want to help Americans,” Scott said. “And so they really want to understand how that money was spent.”
Democrats expressed disappointment over Ukraine’s lack of funding but expressed commitment to providing aid to the war-torn country.
“We will not stop fighting for more economic and security aid for Ukraine,” Schumer said after the bill was passed. “A majority in both parties support aid to Ukraine, and doing more is critical to America’s security and to democracy around the world.”
Ahead of Saturday’s vote, Pentagon officials expressed concern about the prospect of no additional funding for Ukraine. In a letter to congressional leaders Friday, Under Secretary of Defense Michael McCord wrote that the department has exhausted nearly all available security assistance.
“Without additional funding now, we would have to delay or cut assistance to meet Ukraine’s urgent needs, including air defense and ammunition, which are now critical and urgent as Russia prepares for a winter offensive and continues its bombardment of Ukrainian cities,” McCord said.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said after the vote that U.S. assistance was critical as Ukrainians “fight to defend their own country against the forces of tyranny.” America must live up to its word.”
Rep. Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said he wanted to send a clear message to the world about U.S. support for Ukraine by passing legislation but believed the Pentagon had “enough withdrawal funds” to do so to be able to exist until December. He said he believes McCarthy continues to support funding for Ukraine.
“I think the speaker always had a good position on Ukraine. I think he’s dealing with a caucus that has fractures that he has to deal with, and none of them can be ignored when you have a four-seat, 15-vote majority in conference,” Rogers said, referring on right-wing extremist lawmakers who have spoken out strictly against financing Ukraine.
Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he heard McCarthy tell Zelensky during his visit that “we will give them what they need.”
“Unfortunately, the message from the speaker and the former president is that they cannot be relied upon,” Meeks said, adding a reference to former President Donald Trump, who did so called on Congress to withhold additional Ukrainian funds until the FBI, IRS and Justice Department turn over “all evidence” of the Biden family’s business dealings.
The USA has approved four rounds of aid in response to the Russian invasion to Ukraine totaling about $113 billion, with some of that money going toward replenishing U.S. military equipment sent to the front lines. In August, Biden called on Congress to provide an additional $24 billion.
The House’s move on Saturday to act on government funding first presented the Senate with a difficult choice: either approve a bill that does not help Ukraine or allow a prolonged government shutdown to occur could.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., expressed frustration with the outcome.
“Every day that goes by that we don’t get the extra money is a day that Russia gets closer and closer to its ability to win this war,” Murphy said.
Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Ukraine should not be deterred and that aid could be approved through other channels.
“Neither our friends nor our enemies should view this as a change in the United States’ commitment to Ukraine,” Risch said.
Associated Press writers Stephen Groves and Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.