UPDATE 7/14: The vote on the cluster munitions amendment, which would have prevented any of the weapons from being sent to Ukraine, was defeated late Thursday night by a vote of 147-276 — with 49 Democrats joining 98 Republicans in favor of the measure.
Late last night, the Rules Committee decided to block a bipartisan proposal to prevent the export of cluster munitions in favor of a last-minute amendment sponsored by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) that would only stop transfers to Ukraine.
The surprise decision came just two days after a broader proposed amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act — led by Reps. Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) — earned support from Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who agreed to co-sponsor the effort.
The bipartisan amendment — aimed in the near term at blocking Biden’s decision to send the cluster munitions to Ukraine — originally appeared sure to get a vote after the chair and ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee said Tuesday that they had no opposition to a debate on the issue.
The decision to move forward with Greene’s amendment drew sharp criticism from Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), who was a co-sponsor on the original amendment.
“You may lose Democratic support because the implication here is that we’re okay with sending [cluster munitions] to other places,” argued McGovern.
“Marjorie Taylor Greene is now the chief author of this. I’m someone who thinks we ought to help Ukraine push back on Russian aggression. She has a very different opinion on that,” he continued. “So you’re taking what could be a bipartisan amendment […] and you’ve turned it into something that is now simply an anti-Ukraine amendment.”
Some have speculated that the decision to kill the Jacobs amendment in favor of the Greene amendment is a “poison pill” aimed at reducing support for blocking the transfer of cluster munitions to Ukraine. But Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) argued that the move was a practical attempt to attract Republican support for the proposal.
“We found support in our own conference was greater for the limited amendment, and I would like to see this passed,” Massie said during the Rules Committee discussion.
The split highlights the partisan challenges facing lawmakers with growing concerns about how the Biden administration is handling the war in Ukraine. While some Republicans, including Greene, have argued that the conflict is an expensive distraction from other security issues, few Democrats are prepared to publicly split with the administration on the best path to ending the war.
The divide is particularly thorny when it comes to cluster munitions. The Biden administration says that the controversial weapons — which leave behind unexploded munitions that continue to kill civilians long after conflicts — are the only ammunition that the U.S. can send Ukraine as it burns through artillery in its slower-than-expected counteroffensive.
Prominent progressive Democrats — including Reps. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) and Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) — have slammed this logic as short-sighted and immoral. “[I]t’s essential in this process that we maintain our fidelity to just means as well as just ends,” Raskin wrote in a statement. “[W]e should not furnish weaponry designed to maximize suffering or that inherently threatens the injury and loss of life, including those of civilian noncombatants.”
But progressive Democrats are unlikely to vocally support a bill put forward by Greene — a far-right lawmaker with a history of controversial statements about everything from racism to the war in Ukraine. And Greene may even struggle to garner support from her conservative colleagues, who removed her from the House Freedom Caucus this week.
These theories will be put to the test later today when the amendment goes to the floor for a vote. Meanwhile, Ukraine announced this morning that it has already started to receive cluster munitions from the United States. The weapons are “in the hands of our defense forces,” according to a Ukrainian military spokesperson.