Republicans at war over Ukraine funding as Zelensky flies into town

President Volodymyr Zelensky is arriving in DC right in the middle of a fight over funding

Eric Garcia
Tuesday 19 September 2023 20:17 BST
US general says Russia still has 'over 200,000' troops in occupied Ukraine

The fight amongst Republicans about how to keep the government open has many facets, but perhaps one of the most fraught ones includes whether to include support for Ukraine. And it is coming just as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is about to come to Washington.

Earlier this year, I reported how Republican backing for Ukraine was always fraught, with some being sceptical about US support for the country as Russian President Vladimir Putin continues his assault and some elected officials are outright hostile to Ukraine and Mr Zelensky. The split between pro-Ukraine and anti-Ukraine Republicans came on full display during the first GOP presidential primary debate as well.

But now Republicans have the ability to actually do something to change support for Ukraine. Much of the support for the country came when Democrats had a trifecta and when many Democrats, including progressives like Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, voted for aid to the country.

Now the spigot might turn off as Republicans control the House of Representatives, which has always been more at ease with the MAGA style of politics than the Senate.

During last week’s Pray Vote Stand Summit, Rep Chip Roy (R-TX), a member of the House Freedom Caucus, said onstage that “we cannot continue having a blank check going to Ukraine without dealing with what need to do at home first.” Mr Roy supports Florida Gov Ron DeSantis, who has in the past called the war in Ukraine a “territorial dispute.”

At the first Republican debate, Mr DeSantis said Europe needed to do its part to support Ukraine, a view Sen Josh Hawley (R-MO) shares, adding that the United States should focus on China.

“But what we ought to be telling, really our European allies is we ought to be saying, Listen, you guys have got to take the lead on this,” he said, specificially, Mr Hawley said that he opposed additional funding if there would not be an inspector general to look into the money.

(In fact, the EU has so far contributed about $21bn in military aid and another $41bn in economic support. The UK has donated about $4.6bn in military assistance.)

Sen Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) has also opposed supporting Ukraine, specifically the fact that Mr Zelensky fired his defence minister and six of his deputy defence ministers.

“Something’s going wrong,” he said.

Rep Byron Donalds (R-FL) is leading negotiations on behalf of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus on a continuing resolution to keep the government open alongside Mr Roy. Mr Donalds said there would be no funding for Ukraine in such a resolution.

“President Zelensky coming, that’s cool,” he said on Monday just outside House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s office. “But I think the American people are sick and tired or their needs being neglected, while we take care of the rest of the world. And that's one of the reasons why you have members who have issues with Ukraine funding.”

Volodymyr Zelensky addressing the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday
Volodymyr Zelensky addressing the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday (Getty Images)

This of course puts Mr McCarthy in a bind since he is set to meet with Mr Zelensky when he arrives on Capitol Hill. Mr McCarthy as the speaker will have to explain to Mr Zelensky why there will be little to no funding for Ukraine in front of reporters, despite his occasional tough talk about Russia.

For their part, the hawks within the GOP don’t seem that phased by the gnashing of teeth. Sen Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a longtime critic of Russia like his friend the late John McCain, said that there will be a supplemental bill that will include money for Hawaii, Ukraine and the military. He also said what he plans to discuss with Mr Zelensky.

“Tell him to make the case and what happens if we pulled the plug,” he said. ‘And also, they’re doing incredibly well. They’ve taken back half the territory from the Russians.”

Sen Susan Collins (R-ME), the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, did not seem too bothered.

“I support funding for Ukraine,” she said. “What the appropriate vehicles should be remains to be decided.”

Sen Joni Ernst (R-IA) for her part tried to move the discussion toward President Joe Biden.

“I do get concerned,” she told The Independent. “But what I want to hear from President Biden is clearly how we're going to win this war. And I haven't heard that.”

For their part, Democrats are worried the internecine fight could hurt Ukraine. Sen Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) visited Ukraine during the Auguat recess with Mr Graham.

“All they're asking from us is to be a good partner, which we can do, by helping with the financial parts of waging this war,” she said. “For the Republicans to try to turn this into political football, because they think somehow, it would help Donald Trump if Ukraine failed, is harmful to our government and to democracies around the world. “

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