A Republican divide now implies that Joe Biden has to decide whether to try to advance another Ukraine aid package during the lame-duck session or to take his chances with the GOP if they win back control of the House and/or the Senate. The stakes couldn’t be any higher for Ukrainians, of course.
Republican rift on Ukraine may complicate future aid packages.
If Republican leaders win control of Congress in November, they will have to deal with a growing divide between members of their caucus who want to help Ukraine more and those who don’t want to keep sending billions of dollars to Kyiv while the war with Russia rages on.
The split between the party’s establishment Republicans and populists like Trump makes it unclear whether President Joe Biden can count on lawmakers to keep paying for the flow of U.S. military equipment to Ukraine if Democrats lose control of Congress.
Even though they have both voted for Ukraine aid in the past, the Nos. 2 and 3 Republican leaders in the House, Minority Whip Steve Scalise and conference chair Elise Stefanik refused to say that their conference would keep the aid going if Republicans took control of the House in January.
When it passed Congress in May, the $40 billion supplemental for Ukraine divided Republicans. If Republicans win seats in the midterm elections, it’s not unclear where the new members will stand on the issue. In the House, 57 Republicans voted no, while 149 voted with the Democratic majority. In the Senate, 11 Republicans voted no, while 39 voted yes with Democrats.
The results show that opinions within the party have changed. For example, Heritage Action, the lobbying arm of the influential conservative Heritage Foundation, was one of the right-leaning groups that started lobbying Congress against the White House’s recent request to include $13.7 billion in aid for Ukraine and funding for COVID-19 relief in a stopgap spending bill.
Ukraine “deserves” U.S. and European help, but combining it with the continuing resolution would mean ignoring concerns about “the glaring lack of fiscal responsibility and questions about the appropriateness of the proposed aid,” Garrett Bess, vice president of Heritage Action, told Defense News in a statement.
Republicans don’t all agree. Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, who is the ranking member of the Appropriations Committee and is leaving office at the end of the year, said on Thursday that he wants the Ukraine aid package to be included in the continuing resolution and hopes that there won’t be too many other “riders” added to the bill.
Gary Palmer, R-Ala., is the head of the House GOP Conference Policy Committee. He said he has tried to convince those in the caucus who are against helping Ukraine.
Glaring Internal Republican differences
Due to disagreements within the GOP, it’s not unclear how support for Ukraine will fit into the party’s plans after the election. So, many party leaders were hesitant to say how they felt about the aid and oversight measures, even though they supported them.
“I’m not sure what everyone’s position is; I’ve been very supportive of Ukraine,” said Florida Sen. Rick Scott, chairman of Senate Republicans’ campaign arm. “We want to make sure the money isn’t wasted, and we know we have $30 trillion in debt, but I’ve been very supportive of Ukraine aid.”
If the new money goes through, Congress will have given Ukraine more than $67 billion this year. The previous package also said that inspectors general from the Pentagon and State Department had to keep an eye on the aid to Kyiv. It did not, however, make a special inspector general for Ukraine, as Stefanik and others had asked.
Rep. Victoria Spartz, a Ukrainian-American Republican who has supported substantial aid to Kyiv even though she has been critical of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s cabinet, said that a Republican majority would give Ukraine more military capabilities by making it easier to keep an eye on things.
Key Democrats also say that they are sure they will have support from Congress no matter what happens in the midterm elections. Last week, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed, D-RI, worried that public support might wane. On Wednesday, after hearing about Ukraine’s amazing counteroffensive, he said that future aid is not in doubt.
Civil society leaders from Ukraine who were in the U.S. this week to meet with lawmakers and officials from the Biden administration talked at length about the need for anti-corruption measures and asked for more weapons from the U.S. before the harsh winter fighting. But they said they didn’t hear back when they tried to meet with Republicans who had opposed previous aid.
The split vote
Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., who leads the fiscally conservative Republican Study Committee, was among those who were against it. This week, the Republican Study Committee sent out a memo decrying the White House’s request for more spending in the continuing resolution, including the additional aid package for Ukraine. The memo indicated that “only $7.2 billion of that package” would go toward military aid.
Republicans who voted against the last extension of aid to Ukraine said they did so for an opposition of reasons, including that the money would be better spent at home, that the U.S. should pay more attention to the Indo-Pacific region, and that the aid should be more closely watched.
Rep. Roger Williams, a Republican from Texas, voted against the last aid package. He didn’t say that the U.S. wouldn’t give more aid to Ukraine, but he said that the military equipment the U.S. is sending is hurting the U.S. military and would be better used to protect America’s sovereignty on the southern border.
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Missouri, voted against the last aid package for Kyiv because he thought the U.S. should put more troops in the Pacific. He said that the military flood of aid is part of the Biden administration’s “nation-building project” in Ukraine.
Based on how his colleagues have voted on this issue so far, Hawley thinks that a Republican majority in the Senate wouldn’t be able to stop party leaders from sending more help to Ukraine. But he feels a Republican majority in the House remains an impediment.
Sen. Bill Hagerty, a Republican from Tennessee, said he is “concerned about the lack of accountability” in the $40 billion aid package for Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Sen. Rand Paul has stated his opposition to previous and additional rounds of Ukraine aid, citing the floods and tornadoes that have hit his home state this year.
“I haven’t met anyone in Kentucky who says, ‘Oh please send my money overseas,'” Paul said. “We’re still having issues with emergency disaster aid.”
In a floor speech on Wednesday, Paul’s fellow Kentucky senator, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, argued against Democrats keeping control of the government. He said the White House’s new request for Ukraine was too small.
McConnell praised Ukraine’s recent victories on the battlefield and said the U.S. should send better weapons to Kyiv, like the MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System, a surface-to-surface missile made by Lockheed Martin that can hit inside Russia.
“The Ukrainians need more of the weapons we’ve been giving them,” McConnell said. “They need to start getting them faster, and they also need new capabilities like long-range ATACMS, larger drones, and tanks.” “Not all of these weapons must come from America. Make no mistake: our allies are looking to us for signals.”
When asked if Congress could still help Ukraine if Republicans took over the House or Senate, McConnell sought to suppress the discord.
McConnell kept that there are a few voices on the right that appear to oppose the war, but the vast majority of GOP, including himself, believe defeating the Russians in Ukraine is a high priority.