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Ukraine aid fight is central to government shutdown debate

Ukraine aid fight is central to government shutdown debate

The Senate has put forward a proposal for $6 billion in more funding; in the House, McCarthy faces revolt.

Reporting | Washington Politics

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.

File:McCarthy Holding Gavel After Speaker Election.jpg - Wikipedia
Reporting | Washington Politics
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