Republicans are tiptoeing around a recent request from the Biden administration for Ukraine aid, as the party faces internal divisions over the way forward for aid.
The White House last week asked Congress for more than $37 billion in additional aid for Ukraine amid Russia’s continued offensive. And while some Republicans say they support the funding, many are still wary of taking a position.
“It’s a lot of money. I think we should have an open discussion about it,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (WV), the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, said Tuesday, shortly after the request was made public.
While there is broad support for Ukraine military aid among Republicans in both chambers, there is resistance to other types of aid and how it is written.
“There’s strong bipartisan support for supporting Ukraine, but I think there’s also an interest in accounting for dollars that have already been spent,” Sen. John Thune (SD), the number two Senate Republican, said Thursday.
“I think we’re going to have to solve that problem,” Thune told The Hill, “it’s going to work out one way or another. But a lot of these things, I think right now, it’s probably going to get flipped over to the next Congress I guess.”
There is some urgency among lawmakers to get Ukraine aid after spillover from Russia’s war in Poland earlier this week, where two Polish citizens were killed by an apparent, errant Ukrainian missile explosion.
Senator Jeanne Shaheen (DN.H.), co-chair of the Senate NATO Observer Group and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told The Hill that it is “very important” for Congress to consider the administration’s funding request. This year’s budget is over.”
As leaders try to cinch an omnibus funding deal by the end of the year, lawmakers are seriously looking to attach the Ukraine Fund to pass government funding legislation during the lame-duck session.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) expressed confidence Tuesday that Congress will pass a comprehensive bill with aid for Ukraine in the coming weeks.
However, it is unclear whether Congress will be able to pass omnibus by December 16, when funding is due. It could instead pass a continuing resolution to prevent a shutdown, as both sides struggle to agree on an overall top-line figure for next year’s spending.
Republicans are also divided over whether to delay major decisions on new funding until next year to give the next Congress more say over how to finance the government for fiscal year 2023, which begins in October.
There is unwavering support from both parties to pass aid for Ukraine during the lame-duck period, especially as uncertainty grows over whether the House GOP could block funding next year.
“I think what some people are worried about is the change in the House,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) told The Hill on Wednesday.
“I think there are some questions about what the House is going to do once the transition is done,” Capito added. “We’ll have to see how it pans out. I can’t make predictions there.”
Outspoken Republicans in the minority have criticized aid for Ukraine after U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green (R-Ga.), who voted against an earlier aid package to Ukraine, introduced a privilege motion on Thursday. Ukraine, part of his general disapproval of sending US aid abroad.
“I voted ‘no’ from the beginning, and I will continue to vote ‘no,'” she said at a news conference last week.
Fifty-seven House Republicans voted against a $40 billion aid package for Ukraine in May, including Greeney, and she said she expects that number to rise.
That will likely include Rep.-elect Cory Mills (R-Fl.), who threw his support behind Green’s resolution Thursday.
“Americans deserve transparency about where their money goes, it’s our job as elected officials,” he said.
The State Department’s Office of the Inspector General is conducting ongoing audits of how aid is being distributed to Ukraine. As part of its funding request to Congress, the Biden administration set aside $20 million for “oversight and accountability” to “maintain ongoing efforts to work with the Ukrainian Ministry of Finance and other Ukrainian government entities on their monitoring, transparency, verification, and reporting.” related to their use.
Recent polls show a downward trend among Republicans registering support for Ukraine aid. A Wall Street Journal poll released earlier this month found that 48 percent of registered Republicans said the U.S. was doing too much to help Ukraine.
But Rep. Tom Cole (Okla.), the ranking Republican on the House Rules Committee, who supports continued U.S. aid, said Thursday he thinks most Americans don’t understand the stakes the Ukraine-Russia conflict poses to national security.
“If the Ukrainians fail, I think the likelihood of China doing something dangerous in the Western Pacific increases dramatically,” Cole said, pointing to concerns among the U.S. and allies about how China is weighing an attack on neighboring Taiwan with the U.S. and its base. Allies maintain unity for Ukraine.
“I think we have a national interest here and I will never be ashamed to support people who are literally fighting for their lives, against brutal aggression that they in no way, shape or form, encouraged,” the congressman said. continued.
Republicans have been pushing for diplomacy after two deaths in Poland, which is a NATO member, and fears the United States could be drawn more directly into a wider war.
“I think it was a wake-up call about how close we’ve come to this through the NATO treaty,” Rep. Thomas Massey (R-Ky.) told The Hill, citing mutual defense commitments among NATO members. Massey is a co-sponsor of Green’s audit resolution and criticizes US aid to Ukraine.
“This is an opportunity for us to take a good look at what commitments we would have actually made if it had been a missile from Russia,” Massey said.
The explosion in Poland underscores the heightened risk as the Russian offensive on Ukraine intensifies – despite Ukraine’s impressive battlefield victories.
National Security Spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Friday that the administration supports a diplomatically negotiated solution but that the timing depends on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
“It’s hard for anyone to imagine that Mr. Zelensky would be willing to sit down and talk when his citizens are literally being killed by the Russians on an almost daily basis,” he said.