House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), a gregarious guy who stops to greet tourists heading toward the House side of the U.S. Capitol, carefully avoided being photographed in public Thursday with a visitor : Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Zelensky was visiting lawmakers to try to gain additional U.S. support for Ukraine in its war against Russia — framing the small country’s fight as an effort to defend democracy itself.
But at the same time, one of the top chairs of a committee within McCarthy’s own conference suggested that Congress pass a bill requiring the Biden administration to give Zelensky the weapons he has been advocating for since months, because the White House is moving too slowly.
Welcome to House Republicans and Ukraine, 2023 edition.
With some surveys showing that Republicans now mostly oppose additional aid to Ukraine, the division between the Republican Party’s traditional foreign policy internationalists and its ascendant Make America Great Again nationalist wing is most evident in the House.
After attending a small-group meeting with Zelensky and a handful of other House members, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) told reporters he feared the White House would sabotage the party’s chances. Ukraine by moving too slowly to give it the weapons it needs for its fight. against the ongoing Russian invasion.
“We have to give them everything they need. If this administration doesn’t give it to them, then I propose we put it in our appropriations bill,” McCaul, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told reporters.
“We have to give them everything they need. If this administration won’t give it to them, then I propose we put it in our appropriations bill.
– Representative Michael McCaul (Republican of Texas), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee
Specifically, McCaul suggested adding language requiring Ukraine to acquire F-16 fighter jets and long-range rockets, known as ATACM, in a proposed supplemental spending bill by the White House.
McCarthy said Tuesday he planned to hold Zelensky accountable for the weapons and aid the United States has already sent, and to ask how Ukraine would use the $20 billion in new money proposed in more than the 77 billion dollars already committed to Ukraine.
“Where is the accountability and the money we have already spent? What is the plan for victory? I think that’s what the American public wants to know,” McCarthy told reporters.
Unlike visits by other foreign leaders, such as British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, McCarthy avoided a public opportunity to be photographed with Zelensky, which some Ukrainian supporters found disappointing.
Garry Kasparov, a former international chess champion and Soviet-era dissident, accused McCarthy online of appeasing “his MAGA leash holders” and not wanting America to hear from Zelenskyy.
McCaul defended McCarthy, saying, “The speaker, like me, has shown strong support, but we are frustrated by the administration’s slowness to use weapons.” »
McCarthy told Punchbowl News During this visit, Zelensky did not have time to deliver another speech to members of Congress, as he did in December. (A CNN reporter published a photo McCarthy took with Zelenskyy and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., during the morning meeting.)
Another GOP conference member, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Georgia), cited her fear of a supplemental spending bill including aid to Ukraine as a reason to vote to prevent a proposed separate defense bill be introduced in the House.
And Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Florida) said McCaul’s idea of attaching the ATACM and F-16 authorizations to a spending bill would only sink the entire legislation.
Meanwhile, in the Senate — where Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have presented a united front in support of Ukraine — the reception has been very different.
Senator Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) job that Zelenskyy received two standing ovations during his presentation as he met with senators in the Old Senate Chamber.
But Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah), a long-time critic of aid to Ukraine, has shown no such goodwill. He posted a message saying “This is our flag”, followed by an American flag emoji, and “This one is not”, followed by a Ukrainian flag emoji.
Zelensky himself remains politically popular, although his reception on Capitol Hill this time has been muted. A August poll commissioned by pro-Ukrainian group Razom for Ukraine Zelensky was found to have a net favorability rating of 30% among Americans, but a negative 10% among Republicans. Russian President Vladimir Putin recorded a negative result of 81% in the survey.
McCaul remains optimistic that Ukraine will get what it needs, saying, “That’s what the majority of the majority wants.”
But he fears that continued dithering will erode that support, even as the country shows courage in the fight against Russian aggressors. Ukrainian troops are trying to advance without air cover and resorting to manual removal of landmines at night, McCaul said.
“A stalemate and a war of attrition is exactly what Putin wants,” he added.