Ukrainian aid under threat in Republican-controlled house
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) publicly confirmed on Tuesday what many in Washington and Europe privately fear: A Republican-controlled House could turn off the tap funding the efforts of the Ukraine to defend against the Russian invasion.
Why is this important: Unlike aggressive oversight hearings or political messaging bills, a Republican majority’s approach to Ukraine would reverberate far beyond the ring road. A reduction or halt in US military aid would create a geopolitical earthquake that could alter the trajectory of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war.
What is happening: Even House Republicans who have openly supported Ukraine – including McCarthy, who this week compare Putin to Hitler — say there has been a notable shift from what was once a broad bipartisan consensus.
- “I think people are going to be sitting in a recession and they’re not going to write Ukraine a blank check. They just won’t,” McCarthy said in an interview with Punchbowl News.
- “I’ve noticed it. You see it a bit on social media, you see it with some of our members,” Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) said, though he added that he doesn’t not believe the majority of the conference shares these views.
- Rep. Kelly Armstrong (RN.D.) said the change was likely due to voter feedback, telling Axios: “When people see a 13% increase in grocery prices; energy, utility bills public doubles…if you’re a border community and you’re overrun with migrants and fentanyl, Ukraine is the furthest thing from your mind.”
State of play: In May, 57 House Republicans voted “no” to a $40 billion aid package for Ukraine. That number is poised to rise dramatically, especially if more skeptical Republican candidates are swept into Congress in a GOP wave.
- “After the $40 billion, there were a lot of Republicans saying, ‘This is the last time I’m going to support Ukraine funding,'” a senior Republican said.
- “Another billion for Ukraine and 87,000 new tax officials”, tweeted Texas candidate Wesley Hunt in August. “At this rate, we should at least make this the 51st state so they can start paying federal income tax.”
The plot: Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), a staunch supporter of Ukraine who is also a vocal critic of his party’s conservative flank, said Republican leaders are “tiptoeing away” from supporting Ukraine for political reasons.
- “Kevin McCarthy, let’s be clear… his whole existence right now is to please enough people to win the presidency,” Kinzinger told Axios.
- A GOP congressional aide echoed that sentiment and said concern about the House was ‘overblown’, suggesting that McCarthy is ‘counting votes for president and not wanting to rock the boat in advance’ .
In the wings: Even if McCarthy is just pretending, conservative factions in Congress are actively working to oppose future aid spending – backed by a powerful complex of outside groups that includes the Heritage Foundation, the Koch Network, FreedomWorks and the Center for Renewing America.
- Dan Caldwell, senior adviser to Concerned Veterans for America and vice president of foreign policy at Stand Together, both members of the Koch Network, told Axios that his groups sent out surveys to lawmakers and “activated our grassroots army to pressure members to support a better Ukrainian policy.”
- Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), chairman of the 158-member Republican Study Committee, told Axios, “RSC thinks you can’t lead overseas when you’re so weak at home. Our program of the GOP in the new majority needs to secure our own border and get America back on its feet by tackling energy costs and inflation.”
What to watch: The party is united on at least one position when it comes to Ukraine: there should be thorough accounting of every dollar sent.
- “What Republicans want to see is more accountability and control, and also to make sure it’s going the right way,” said Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the top Republican on the commission. of Foreign Affairs and another strong supporter of Ukraine.
- McCaul added that his colleagues have complained that the United States is footing the bill to a greater extent than other major NATO allies, such as Germany and France.