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Rep. Warren Davidson: 'No mission, no aid' for Ukraine

The Republican conservative joins the fray in what promises to be a fraught vote for billions in more war funding this fall.

Reporting | Europe

UPDATE: Davidson's amendment to put conditions on Ukraine aid failed Thursday by a 129-301 vote. No Democrats voted for it and 90 Republicans voted against.

Washington is rife right now with talk about how the United States is running low on ammunition to give to Ukraine, and that’s why the administration is giving Kyiv controversial cluster munitions, risking support from its own left flank in the party.

Everyone seems to know what’s next: Congress will have to approve, somehow, more military assistance for Ukraine, likely by the fall. The administration has already projected that it will deplete the current aid packages by that time. As of Friday, the U.S. has spent over $40 billion in military assistance since the war began in February 2022.

It is not clear how Congress will handle the extra appropriations — particularly after a recent debt ceiling fight in which House Speaker Kevin McCarthy pledged not to spend outside agreed-upon limits. In fact, there is likely a fight looming among Republicans — those who are committed to spending “whatever it takes” to help Ukraine continue the war, and other members who want to put conditions on it, or even stop it entirely, claiming it is not in America’s interests to keep funding the conflict.

Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Ohio, says it is only common sense to put restraints on the aid, though he has voted against two major aid packages so far — one in May of 2022 and the other just before the Christmas holiday last year. He has proposed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would require a clear definition and assessment of the administration’s war strategy, including “a diplomatic which the United States can facilitate a negotiated cessation of hostilities in Ukraine.” It also requires a briefing of the appropriate committees on “the United States strategy with respect to Ukraine and the plans for the implementation of such strategy.”

Editor's note: the amendment failed Thursday night on the House floor. The vote tally was 129-301. No Democrats voted in favor; 90 Republicans also voted against it.

The measure also calls for a cost assessment of the continued conflict, projected out one, five, and 10 years into the war. Most importantly, no aid can be expended until the (unclassified) report is delivered to Congress, within 90 days of the amendment’s passage, and lawmakers are briefed. 

“The main condition is no mission, no aid,” Davidson told Responsible Statecraft in an interview last week. “If you can’t tell me what the mission is, I can’t tell what I’m funding.” This restriction only applies to the aid provided in the NDAA each year. Right now that includes several hundred million budgeted for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI), but would not impact the vast bulk of money that might be passed in a supplemental package. 

Davidson says he knows what he doesn’t want to fund, and that’s a regime change war that aims to grind down the Russian army with no real endgame. In that case, he said, you’re grinding down the Ukraine army, too, and “frankly, the entire nation of Ukraine.”

There has been no real debate in Congress over the administration’s strategy in Ukraine. With Congress’s only recourse being the power of the purse, members like Davidson say they are willing to make it an issue. “Hey, if you really want to commit to some mission that says, no Russians left in Ukraine at the pre-January 2022 borders, then that’s the kind of debate that this is supposed to focus on," he charged. "Let’s have that actual debate.”

Davidson says he is aware that this is an issue over which his own party, even in his own district, is split. Along with support, he has taken heat for his "nay" votes so far (though he points out he has approved sanctions and has clearly stated “that Putin’s invasion is unjust”). 

“A lot of people are like, if you are willing to do nothing then that means you’re okay with (the invasion). I get that. But it relieves the people — the secretary of state, the president, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the secretary of defense — whose duty it is to define the mission and hold the executive branch accountable for accomplishing that mission — responsible. That’s how you get George W. Bush on the deck of an aircraft carrier with a mission accomplished banner and everyone knew the mission wasn’t accomplished.”

“And they certainly did way more to define that mission in Iraq than they’ve done in Ukraine,” he added.

Russ Duerstine, executive director of the conservative Concerned Veterans of America, said Davidson is tapping into the frustration Americans are feeling about the way the money has been spent so far — with seemingly little oversight by its elected officials.

“It’s past time the U.S. cancel blank checks to Ukraine and set realistic conditions on any new Ukraine aid bills that should come before Congress this fall,” he told Responsible Statecraft.

The House version of NDAA will consider over 1,500 amendments during the process, and is beginning its trek this week towards a full chamber vote. Some amendments have already been tacked on in the House Armed Services Committee mark-up, including one by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) who wants a special inspector general to keep track of all the Ukraine aid flowing into that country (the Biden administration is fighting to keep that language out.) The NDAA bill advanced out of that committee with a total of $874 billion in 2024 fiscal year funding, in June.

“Davidson’s amendment would split the (Republican) conference but accountability for how aid money is spent is an area you can get broad GOP agreement that elides certain differences on Ukraine policy,” notes Jim Antle, writer and political editor for the Washington Examiner. In other words, it speaks to members who feel their fiscal authority for waging wars — even wars that the U.S. is not technically, directly involved — is being undermined.

“This de facto proxy war has been going on for over 500 days. It has cost the American people $113 billion,” charged Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, in a statement to Responsible Statecraft. He also voted against the previous aid packages and supports a special inspector general, as well as Davidson’s amendment.

“Yet we have never been given a clear strategy or a clear vision for our involvement," he added. "That must change and it is up to the House Republicans to force that change via the power of the purse.”

There is talk but so far no clear sense of how the Ukraine aid issue will play out — whether it will be tacked on to the NDAA or an emergency supplemental or whether the federal government spending bills (including defense) will be squashed into an omnibus before the Sept. 30 deadline and Ukraine aid will be slipped into the massive package, which will of course, make it very difficult for members to thwart. A call to McCarthy’s office went unreturned as of Tuesday.

“The Biden administration has been proclaiming that we will support Ukraine for ‘as long as it takes’ with no qualifiers and no plan to end the conflict,” noted Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.). “A detailed report like the one Rep. Davidson is proposing should be the bare minimum.”

The measure is drawing support from progressive groups, like Peace Action and the Friends Committee for National Legislation, who see it as a way to push for diplomatic solutions, or at least have an honest debate on how the war can end.

“Diplomacy’s critics assume that any diplomacy would be a slippery slope that leads to a simplistic split the difference compromise. So they are trying to silence any talk of diplomacy,” noted Jon Rainwater of Peace Action. The Davidson amendment, he added, “requires the administration to be proactive and transparent about development diplomatic options.”

Allen Hester of FCNL agrees. “The decision to engage in a conflict, whether directly or indirectly, demands a tremendous amount of transparency. We hope this amendment helps ensure that costs and risks are appropriately considered and allows Congress to better carry out their oversight responsibilities.”

Rep. Warren Davidson (R-Ohio) (Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons)
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