Opposition to — or skepticism of — sending more U.S. money to Ukraine has accelerated within the GOP in recent weeks, with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R -Calif.) Signaling earlier this month that Republicans would end or limit war spending if they take control of the House midterm next week.
The threat to cut funding marks a watershed moment for a party whose members almost universally agreed to help Ukraine after Russia invaded in February. Over the past eight months, supporters of former President Donald Trump have joined skeptics of military intervention and anti-Biden forces within the GOP to challenge traditionally hawkish Republicans.
The result is a rare crack in the GOP, likely to turn into a more open battle if Republicans retake Congress and face strong demands from Biden and emotional pleas from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Just last week, a group of Republican lawmakers objected to a provision Democrats inserted into a must-have defense authorization bill that would allow the Justice Department to send to Ukraine millions of dollars in yachts and other assets seized from Russia.
Most Republicans, like Vance and Bolduc, frame their objections in terms of fiscal responsibility, saying the money would be better spent on problems at home. In a few cases, far-right candidates have echoed Trump’s praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin and called for the aid to be cut altogether.
Biden slams Republicans for threatening Ukraine aid
But the GOP is also home to a slew of old-school hawks who promise to continue supporting Kyiv and, in some cases, have called on the White House to do even more.
In a stark departure from McCarthy’s comments, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called the exact opposite: He urged the Biden administration “to do more to provide the tools Ukraine needs.” needs to thwart Russian aggression”, including further assistance. McConnell said that if the GOP regains the Senate, the Republican majority “would focus its oversight on the rapid delivery of needed weapons and greater allied assistance to Ukraine.”
Several Republicans are privately expressing skepticism that McCarthy and a Republican-led House would cut aid all together, saying his comments likely included some measure of pre-midterm posturing. Republican House members who are on their way to powerful committee positions may find themselves trying to bridge the gap between insurgents and traditionalists.
Even so, Republican divisions present a challenge for President Biden, who has worked to maintain a national and global coalition to support Ukraine amid rising food and gas prices and a global security crisis. hunger. Biden and his top aides said they would support Ukraine “as long as it takes” and would not force Zelensky to the negotiating table.
The large number of Republicans questioning the current role of the United States in the Ukraine conflict is a marked change for a party that has often been led by hawks who have fought to spend more money on military efforts.
That sentiment was personified by Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), a former prisoner of war who advocated forcefully for US military interventions in Iraq, Libya, Syria and elsewhere. McCain, who frequently argued with Trump, died in 2018, silencing an influential voice on Republican foreign policy.
During the Trump presidency, when the former president sporadically called for the United States to withdraw its troops from Syria or Afghanistan, his feelings were quickly reversed by the Republicans who were under his command. Under Biden, however, skepticism of US aid to Ukraine is finding wider constituency within the Republican Party.
This includes a network of young conservatives, many centered on groups such as Concerned Veterans for America and Stand Together, who seek to steer the party away from its post-9/11 neoconservatism and focus on power projection. military.
“We don’t believe that blank checks for Ukraine are best for the security of the United States or Ukraine,” said Dan Caldwell, vice president for foreign policy at Stand Together, a group backed by billionaire industrialist Charles Koch.
Caldwell, like some progressive lawmakers across the aisle, called on the Biden administration to play a bigger role in pushing for a negotiated end to the conflict as soon as possible. “It’s immoral to keep urging people to fight a war that we think they can’t win,” he said.
Democrats have remained largely united behind aid to Ukraine, though a group of 30 progressive lawmakers sent a letter to the White House last week urging Biden to pursue direct negotiations with Russia and start working on a diplomatic path to end the war. They called on Biden to pair the unprecedented economic and military support the United States is providing Ukraine with a “proactive diplomatic push, redoubling efforts to seek a realistic framework for a ceasefire.”
But the effort’s leader, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), rescinded the letter less than 24 hours later after a backlash from fellow Democrats, expressing unwavering support for Biden’s approach. in the face of war.
Democrats, and even Republicans, have said some of the GOP’s skepticism about aid to Ukraine stems from opposition to Biden. A central pillar of his presidency has been the effort to rally a coalition of Western leaders who have implemented tough sanctions on Russia and maintained support for Ukraine even as their countries have suffered severe economic disruption.
“There’s an element of Republican hostility toward Ukraine that stems from their hatred of Joe Biden,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). “Initially, Republicans were ready to support Ukraine, but as Joe Biden has had more success in defending Ukraine and more of his identity is attached to defending Ukraine, it draws Republican hostility because they just can’t bear to be on the same side as Joe Biden on anything.
Yet Congress has so far provided almost all the aid and arms the White House has requested — amounting to more than $60 billion — with overwhelming bipartisan support. Even if Republicans take control of both chambers, the challenge for Biden will be far greater in the House, which will have a significant number of Trump-aligned insurgents.
Some Republicans have said the desire to look at the billions in aid suddenly coming out is entirely reasonable.
“I think what those statements reflect is that aid is not a blank check and it’s not unlimited, but it’s very different from saying, ‘We’re going to cut you up and deliver you to the Putin’s dogs,” Whit said. Ayres, a GOP pollster. “It is inconceivable that there could be a significant majority of the entire House, Democrats and Republicans, who would want to leave Ukraine in the clutches of Vladimir Putin.”
Sen. James E. Risch (R-Idaho), who would chair the Foreign Relations Committee if the GOP takes over, voiced his wholehearted support for the war effort and signaled no change in Republican support for the aid and armament programs.
“Only the Ukrainians should decide the future of Ukraine. I support their fight for freedom, which they win on the battlefield,” Risch said in a statement to The Washington Post. “Any effort to appease Putin is dangerous, irresponsible and will only encourage Russian aggression.”
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.), who is set to become the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has tried to incorporate elements of both traditionalists and insurgents, narrative Bloomberg TV, he wants more powerful weapons sent to Ukraine, but also “more oversight and accountability in terms of funding”.
Some interested Republicans favor a measure drafted by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) earlier this year that would appoint an inspector general to oversee how Ukrainian funds are spent. Paul did not attach the legislation to the $40 billion package for Ukraine, but he shared his thoughts on oversight of Ukraine during a closed meeting with House lawmakers in May, a trade that could bear fruit next year if Republicans take control of the House.
Democrats argued that the money was desperately needed as Ukrainians fought a ruthless Russian enemy, and that imposing traditional surveillance rules would only hurt Ukraine.
“There’s no information to suggest any of those dollars are being misused, and the priority is speed,” Murphy said. “You have to get the money out, so in the absence of evidence of misuse of dollars, I don’t know why we would punish the Ukrainians by slowing down the whole process.”
Polls have shown that domestic support for Ukraine is softening, especially among Republicans. In March, 9% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents said the United States was providing too much aid to Ukraine, according to a Pew Research Center survey. In a follow-up survey this fall, that figure jumped to 32%.
In the higher Republican circles, the debate on aid to Ukraine is increasingly vigorous. In late October, former Vice President Mike Pence tried to rally support for aid to Ukraine in a speech to the Heritage Foundation, a well-known conservative think tank. “Conservatives need to make it clear that Putin has to stop and Putin will pay,” Pence said.
But after the speech, a handful of prominent Republicans publicly stood up to the former vice president. Heritage Chairman Kevin Roberts issued a rejoinder saying Republicans should be “on guard for any attempt to spend more money recklessly.”
“Biden owes the American people a concrete strategy on our future role that doesn’t leave us mired in a state of perpetual conflict management funded by American taxpayers,” Roberts said.
And former Pence staffer Russ Vought, who also served as Trump’s budget chief, told C-SPAN he disagreed with Pence’s remarks.
“I have a lot of respect for my former boss, but when we’re spending $54 billion to support Ukraine, that’s more than key federal government departments,” Vought said.