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Political divide emerges over US aid to Ukraine as Zelensky heads to Washington

Washington — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visit to Washington This week comes at a critical time for its alliance with the United States, as Republican leaders in Congress differ over how to send more military and humanitarian aid to the country.

President Biden is seeking an additional $24 billion in terms of security and humanitarian aid to Ukraine, in line with his promise to help the country “as long as it takes” to drive Russia from its borders.

But ratification of Mr. Biden’s request is deeply uncertain because of a growing partisan divide in Congress over how to proceed.

Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy told reporters he wanted the Ukraine aid increase to be debated on its own merits as a standalone bill, rather than link to other priorities such as government funding.

But the Senate has other ideas. House leaders would like to combine aid to Ukraine with other priorities, such as a short-term spending bill that will likely be needed to avoid a late September shutdown.

The differing approaches threaten to lead to an impasse that could easily delay future phases of U.S. aid to Ukraine, raising the stakes for Zelensky as he makes his first visit to the United States since taking office. surprise speech to Congress late 2022. In that speech, Zelenskyy thanked “all Americans” for their support as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, and Vice President Kamala Harris dramatically unfurled a Ukrainian flag behind him.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addresses Congress as Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi hold a Ukrainian national flag that Zelensky gave to them at the U.S. Capitol on December 21, 2022.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addresses Congress as Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi hold a Ukrainian national flag that Zelensky gave to them at the U.S. Capitol on December 21, 2022.

MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

Nine months later, with Republicans now controlling the House majority, voters are increasingly wary of continued support for Ukraine as Russia turns its invasion into a costly war of attrition. In Congress, that skepticism is concentrated among House Republicans, many of whom share former President Donald Trump’s “America First” approach and want to end the aid.

The United States has so far approved four rounds of aid to Ukraine in response to the Russian invasion, totaling about $113 billion, with some of that money going toward replenishing equipment. American soldier sent to the front lines. Most members of the House and Senate support this aid, viewing the defense of Ukraine and its democracy as a global imperative.

McCarthy has stressed the need for controls on Ukrainian aid, but has also been critical of Russia, criticizing the country’s “child murder” in a speech this summer. But he is juggling his desire to help Ukraine with domestic political realities, which include demands from many in his party to cut public spending.

In some ways, combining aid to Ukraine with other pressing issues could improve the chances of delivering it quickly. Some lawmakers will be more likely to vote in favor of aid to Ukraine if it is included, for example, in disaster relief for their home state.

But the move would also deeply divide House Republicans and certainly inflame McCarthy’s critics who threaten to oust him from the presidency.

“I don’t know why they would want to put this on a CR,” McCarthy said, using Washington language to mean a short-term continuing resolution that keeps agencies funded. “I think this should be discussed individually.”

Meanwhile, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has put aid to Ukraine at the top of his to-do list and has been speaking for weeks from the Senate floor about the urgency of action.

He called on inspectors general last week to brief Republican senators on how U.S. aid is tracked to address concerns about waste and fraud. And in one of his Senate speeches, McConnell responded to criticism that the United States has shouldered too much of Ukraine’s burden by pointing to aid also coming from European countries.

“In fact, when it comes to security aid to Ukraine as a percentage of GDP, 14 of our European allies actually give more,” McConnell said.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and McConnell called on senators to meet with Zelenskyy on Thursday morning.

Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina said he believes aid should be provided as soon as possible, and that the legislative means needed to do so is unlikely to be a standalone bill.

“I, for one, think we should go ahead and make this happen,” Tillis said. “We need to get Ukraine funded in a time frame that does not result in a failure, at least a perceived failure, because I think this is a strategic victory for Putin and I never want Putin to get a strategic victory .”

But Republican Rep. Ken Calvert of California cautioned against adding aid to Ukraine to the spending bill in the short term. He said the focus should first be on passing a comprehensive defense spending bill as well as other spending bills.

“We can’t shift the focus away from that,” Calvert said. “There is currently significant ammunition in Ukraine, I think it will be available by the end of the year.”

Rep. Mike Garcia, Republican of California, said he was not necessarily opposed to more aid to Ukraine, but he said the average American doesn’t know how the war is going, and that the Average member of Congress can’t say that either.

“Tell us what you’re doing with this money, and let’s have a debate about this funding without forcing it down our throats,” Garcia said.

House Republicans hope to bring to a vote this week a stopgap spending bill that does not include Mr. Biden’s aid package for Ukraine.

“I can’t imagine a worse reception for President Zelensky visiting us this week than this House proposal, which completely ignores Ukraine,” Schumer said.

Still, Rep. Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, expressed confidence that aid to Ukraine would continue.

“This has to pass. What I’m hearing from our NATO allies… is that if the United States doesn’t participate, everything falls apart,” McCaul said. .


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