Parallel efforts in the House and Senate hoping to find a short-term funding solution have advanced at a snail’s pace this week, and it continues to look likely that no agreement will be struck and the federal government will shutdown on October 1.
Central to the major battles being fought right now between and within both chambers is the future of Ukraine aid. While majorities in both the House and Senate still support both humanitarian and weapons assistance to Kyiv, an increasing number of Republicans have expressed skepticism or flat-out oppose additional funding beyond the $113 billion allocated by Washington last year.
A few have vowed to reject any government funding measures that include more aid or have pushed to attach more conditions to future support.
In the latest in a series of flip-flops in recent weeks, House Republican leadership decided late on Wednesday night to remove $300 million in security assistance for Ukraine from the Defense Appropriations bill, and will vote on the aid separately, according to reporting from Juliegrace Brufke.
The Senate, which has been more generally more supportive of President Joe Biden’s $24 billion emergency supplemental request for Ukraine, has put forward a proposal for a continuing resolution containing $6 billion in funding for Ukraine (coming up short of Biden’s ask). The trimming down of aid is likely an effort to placate skeptical Republicans. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), for example, has pledged “to do everything in [his] power to block a bill that includes funding for Ukraine,” and he will likely use procedural tools that can delay the resolution from arriving on the House floor until the weekend, all but ensuring a shutdown.
Even if the stopgap measure does eventually make its way through the Senate, it is likely dead on arrival in the House. “I don’t see the support in the House,” Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said on Wednesday. The Speaker reportedly told Sen. Mitch McConnell, the GOP leader in the Senate, that he would not bring a bill to the House floor that funded Ukraine while ignoring problems at the United States’ southern border.
McCarthy’s apparent refusal to entertain the Senate proposal continues his back-and-forth stance on how to handle further aid for Kyiv. The Speaker is in a tricky political situation, balancing a desire to avoid a shutdown with the fear that he will face a "motion to vacate" — in which one member could force a vote on removing him from his job — if he ignores his right flank’s demands.
As a result, he has continued to be ambiguous on his own stance on aid to Ukraine. After turning down both the Biden administration’s offer to hold a briefing with various high-level officials on the status of the war, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s request to address a joint session of Congress during his visit to Washington last week, McCarthy met with Zelensky in a smaller, private group. His brief comments following the meeting suggested that it was a productive one.
But a few hours later, Jake Sherman of Punchbowl News posted on X that House Republicans were “considering removing any Ukraine-related funding from the Pentagon spending bill in order to attract GOP holdouts.”
On Saturday, the Speaker had again reversed course, saying that removing the funding was “too difficult” to do, and that it would therefore stay in, before changing his mind once more on Wednesday. The Ukraine-related funding in the DoD spending bill amounts to approximately $300 million, part of the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI).
An amendment to the bill that would have removed this money, introduced by Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), was defeated 104-330, with all votes in favor coming from Republicans.
It is now unclear if McCarthy, who controls a very narrow majority, can get spending bills that contain any money for Kyiv through the House. After two failed attempts, House Republicans finally managed to vote to approve the rule that will allow them to begin debate on their defense appropriations bill (along with three other single-subject spending bills). The only dissenting GOP vote on the defense appropriations rule was from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who argued that “voting yes means more money for Ukraine.”
Once the rule was approved, Greene posted on X that she was “the ONLY Republican to vote NO on the rule yesterday that contained appropriation bills with unlimited funds for Ukraine.”
Other Republicans who voted in favor of the rule may try to strip any Ukraine funding from the legislation (as Rep. Matt Gaetz has already attempted, through the amendment process) or eventually vote against the spending bill. Rep. Eli Crane (R-Ariz.) posted a video on X over the weekend, saying “people all over the country are tired of funding never-ending wars.”
Appearing on Washington Journal on Friday, Biggs said that he would continue to oppose more aid, since “there is no exit plan,” out of this conflict.
Greene told Cami Mondeaux of the Washington Examiner that the defense spending bill was “dead on arrival” when it gets a vote on the House floor, because there are enough Republican members opposed specifically to Ukraine funding. It appears she was correct, as GOP leadership's decision on Wednesday indicates that they knew that there were not enough votes for the spending bill to pass.
Greene, Crane, and Biggs are three of the 29 Republican members of Congress (six Senators and 23 House representatives) who signed a letter last week arguing that “The American people deserve to know what their money has gone to. How is the counteroffensive going? Are the Ukrainians any closer to victory than they were 6 months ago? What is our strategy, and what is the president’s exit plan? What does the administration define as victory in Ukraine?”
Until those questions were answered, the signers pledged to oppose any future expenditures for the war. “It would be an absurd abdication of congressional responsibility to grant this request without knowing the answers to these questions,” they wrote.
Twenty-nine members represents a small total of the GOP caucus (though earlier measures making similar demands have garnered more support). As a recent story in Semafor points out, this dynamic puts a majority of Republicans in Congress at odds with their constituents.
“Among the GOP base, skepticism of U.S. involvement in the conflict runs deep,” reports Semafor. “Fifty-nine percent of Republicans say the U.S. is doing too much to help Kyiv, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released over the weekend, similar to earlier results from Gallup and CNN.”
Republicans in Congress are slowly shifting in that direction. Gaetz's first attempt to prohibit security assistance for Ukraine had 70 Republicans voting in favor. A similar amendment introduced by Gaetz on Wednesday received 93 votes.
If congressional leadership can find a way to break the logjam on other parts of the government funding debate, it’s possible that bipartisan and bicameral support for new Ukraine monies will stream forward in future legislation. But the tumultuous events of the last few weeks show that the political pressure in the Republican caucus is moving against future funding, that debates over Ukraine are becoming increasingly thorny, and that the issue will remain central to political disputes for the foreseeable future.
Blaise Malley is a reporter for Responsible Statecraft. He is a former associate editor at The National Interest and reporter-researcher at The New Republic. His writing has appeared in The New Republic, The American Prospect, The American Conservative, and elsewhere.
DOHA, QATAR — In remarks Sunday at the 21st Doha Forum in Qatar, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov seemed to revel in what is becoming a groundswell of international frustration with the United States over its policies in Israel. Despite Russia’s own near-isolated status after its 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Lavrov glibly characterized the U.S. as on the wrong side of history, the leader of the dying world order, and the purveyor of its own brand of “cancel culture.”
“I think everybody understands that this (Gaza war) did not happen in a vacuum that there were decades of unfulfilled promises that the Palestinians would get their own state,” and years of political and security hostilities that exploded on Oct. 7, he charged. “This is about the cancel culture, whatever you don’t like about events that led to the current situation you cancel. Everything that came before February 2022, including the bloody coup (in Ukraine) and the unconstitutional change of power … all this was canceled. The only thing that remains is that Russia invaded Ukraine.”
Lavrov, beamed in from Russia to the international audience in Doha, went fairly unchallenged, though his interviewer James Bays, diplomatic editor at Al Jazeera, attempted to corner him on accusations stemming from Russia’s own bloody record in Chechnya in the 1990s and and 2000s and its ongoing military campaign in Syria, which Lavrov noted was at the “behest” of the Syrian government.
On the issue of the failed ceasefire vote at the UN Security Council, of which Russia is a permanent veto member, Lavrov said, “we strongly condemn the terrorist attack against Israel. At the same time we do not think it is acceptable to use this (terrorist) event for collective punishment of millions of Palestinian people.” Did he condemn the United States for vetoing the ceasefire measure? “It’s up to the regional countries and the other countries of the world to judge,” he declared.
When asked if there was a “stalemate” in the Russian war in Ukraine, and what the Russians may have gained from their invasion in 2022, he said simply, “it’s up to the Ukrainians to understand how deep a hole they are in and where the Americans have put them.”
On whether a ceasefire may be in the offing in that war Lavrov said, “a year and half ago (Zelensky) signed a decree prohibiting any negotiations with the Putin government. They had the chance in March and April 2022, very soon after the beginning of the special military operation, where in Istanbul the negotiators reached a deal with neutrality for Ukraine, no NATO, and security guarantees…it was canceled,” he added, because the Americans and Brits wanted to “exhaust (Ukrainians) more.”
Lavrov gleefully piggybacked on themes from an earlier forum panel on the Global South. He accused “the United States and its allies” of building “the model of globalization, which they thought would serve them well.” But now, Lavrov contends, the unaligned are using “the principles and instruments of globalization to beat the West on their own terms.” As for Russia, Lavrov deployed a little “cancel culture” of his own, cherry picking the high points of his country's history over the last 200 years to project a nation that he boasts will emerge unscathed by Western assaults today.
“In the beginning of the 19th century Napoleon (rose European armies) against Russia and we defeated him; in the 20th century Hitler did the same. We defeated him and became stronger after that as well,” he said. With the Ukraine war, the West will find “that Russia has already become much stronger than it was before this.”
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UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres speaks in opening session of the Doha Forum in Qatar, December 10. (vlahos)
DOHA, QATAR — The U.S. veto of the UN Security Council vote for a ceasefire in the war in Gaza is being met with widespread anger and frustration by the international community and especially in the Arab world, as reflected in opening remarks at the 21st Doha Forum in Qatar on Sunday.
Addressing the forum, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said the vote was “regrettable…that does not make it less necessary. I can promise that I will not give up.” He said since the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas in Israel and the ensuing Israeli retaliation in Gaza, “the Council’s authority and credibility were seriously undermined” by a succession of failed votes to respond to ongoing civilian carnage on the Strip.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, foreign minister of Qatar, said the current crisis and the U.S. reaction to it, including its thwarting of the ceasefire call (it was the only vote of disapproval; the UK abstained) was exposing the “great gap between East and West ... and double standards in the international community.” He pointed to those drawing attention to war crimes in “other contexts” (no doubt referring to Russia in Ukraine ) “hesitating to call for the end of these crimes in the Gaza strip.”
He repeatedly called for the creation of new multipolar world order that "respects justice and equality between the people where no people are more powerful than the other."
The U.S. said it did not approve the ceasefire resolution Friday because of the lack of condemnation of Hamas in the language, and that it not include a declaration of Israel’s right to defend itself. U.S. ambassador Robert Wood said halting Israel’s military action would “only plant the seeds for the next war.”
The result is that people here at the forum say they are more convinced than ever that U.S. policy is reflexively and intimately intertwined with Israel's activities in Gaza. As Mohammad Shtayyeh, prime minister of Palestine, charged, Washington has given the “greenest of green lights” to what Israel is doing on the ground. This was exacerbated this weekend with news that the Biden Administration is bypassing Congressional review to send 13,000 tank rounds to Israel. This, despite efforts by Democrats in his own party to condition the transfer of offensive weapons to prevent their use against civilians.
Meanwhile, humanitarian advocates repeatedly called the situation on the ground “unprecedented.” In an interview with Al Jazeera reporter Stefanie Dekker on the dais, Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, said his own organization is “on the brink of collapse.” They have lost 134 relief workers in Gaza since Israeli operations began. He described staff in silent stupefaction over the loss of homes, families. “There is no doubt a ceasefire is needed; we want to put an end to hell on earth right now in Gaza.”
Khaled Saffuri, executive director of the National Interest Foundation in Washington, told RS he was struck by the backlash against American brands in his own travels in Kuwait and Qatar over the last week, citing customer and restaurant boycotts of Coke, Pepsi, MacDonald’s, and Starbucks. “It’s horrible,” he said of the lopsided UN vote. “America is losing a lot in the Muslim world.”
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Journalists in the press room watch as Republican presidential candidate and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and fellow candidate and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy discuss an issue during the fourth Republican candidates' debate of the 2024 U.S. presidential campaign hosted by NewsNation at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, U.S., December 6, 2023. REUTERS/Alyssa Pointer
It's as if the Ukraine War has all but ended — at least for American politics.
If the Republican debates had occurred last year, they would have been consumed with talk over whether Vladimir Putin was readying to roll across Europe and how weak President Biden was for not giving Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky our best tanks, our most powerful fighter aircraft, the longest range missiles we had — maybe even access to nukes.
But Zelensky wasn’t anywhere near the debate stage in Alabama last night, his name not even invoked. Fitting, we guess, since the Senate failed to pass an aid package yesterday that would have sent another $60 billion to Ukraine. This, despite administration claims that the war effort is literally running out of money. Biden even took to the airwaves Wednesday to warn of a NATO war if the funding wasn’t approved.
Republicans have been souring on the aid for months now, which might account for Ukraine’s diminished importance in the conversation. It was outweighed last night by the conflict in Israel, which in itself only drew three questions: Do we send in special forces to get the eight remaining American hostages back from Hamas? What kind of punishment could be slapped on university presidents who allow “pro Hamas” protests on campus? And how do we “get” Iran for purportedly being behind it all?
Ukraine was wielded, albeit briefly, as a blunt instrument. At the very least it gave us the tiniest of glimpses into the competing world views of the hawks on the dais (Chris Christie and Nikki Haley) and their chief agitant, Vivek Ramaswamy.
Haley raised the issue (without being asked about it) by fitting it into her usual stream of Domino Theory conciousness:
“The problem is, you have to see that all of these are related. If you look at the fact Russia was losing that war with Ukraine, Putin had hit rock bottom, they had raised the draft age to 65. He was getting drones and missiles — drones from Iran, missiles from North Korea. And so what happened when he hit rock bottom, all of a sudden his other friend, Iran, Hamas goes and invades Israel and butchers those people on Putin's birthday. There is no one happier right now than Putin because all of the attention America had on Ukraine suddenly went to Israel. And that's what they were hoping is going to happen. We need to make sure that we have full clarity, that there is a reason again that Taiwanese want to help Ukrainians because they know if Ukraine wins China won't invade Taiwan. There's a reason the Ukrainians want to help Israelis because they know that if Iran wins, Russia wins. These are all connected. But what wins all of that is a strong America, not a weak America. And that's what Joe Biden has given us.”
Vivek Ramaswamy responds:
“I want to say one thing about that tie to Ukraine. Foreign policy experience is not the same as foreign policy wisdom. I was the first person to say we need a reasonable peace deal in Ukraine. Now a lot of the neocons are quietly coming along to that position with the exceptions of Nikki Haley and Joe Biden, who still support this, what I believe, is pointless war in Ukraine. …One thing that Joe Biden and Nikki Haley have in common is that neither of them could even state for you three provinces in eastern Ukraine that they want to send our troops to actually fight for. … So reject this myth that they've been selling you that somebody had a cup of coffee stint at the UN and then makes eight million bucks after has real foreign policy experience. It takes an outsider to see this through.”
To which Chris Christie retorted:
“Let me just say something here, you know, his (Ramaswamy’s) reasonable peace deal in Ukraine. He made it clear. Give them all the land they've already stolen. Promise Putin you'll never put Ukraine in Russia, and then trust Putin not to have a relationship with China.” (Christie then essentially calls Ramaswamy a liar for suggesting he never said that.)
"These people are lying. These are the same people who told you about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to justify that invasion didn't know the first thing about it if they send thousands of our sons and daughters to go die. The same people who told you the same in Afghanistan, where the Taliban is still in charge. Twenty years later, seven trillion of our national debt due to these toxic neocons. You can put lipstick on a Dick Cheney, it is still a fascist neocon today."
That was basically it. After $130 billion in U.S. taxpayer money since 2022, most of which we are being told has been spent in Ukraine. After hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians and Russians dead and maimed, Ukraine’s economy in such a state that the West has to prop it up, and NATO pledging more troops and weapons it doesn’t even seem to have, the issue was afforded a scant few minutes, and used only in the broadest of ways to pound each other. Gone was even the ghost of the old argument that the free world was at stake or that our obligation to Ukrainians was a moral imperative. It’s been reduced to a political cudgel, which is the first step to being memory holed in Washington. It happened to Iraq and Afghanistan in prior president debates 2012 and 2016.
The gist seems to be, maybe if we ignore it, it will just go away?