Political division emerges over aid package for Ukraine as Zelensky heads to Washington
WASHINGTON (AP) — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s visit to Washington this week comes at a critical juncture for his alliance with the United States as Republican leaders in Congress disagree over how to send more military and humanitarian aid to the country.
President Joe Biden is seeking an additional amount $24 billion in security and humanitarian aid As for Ukraine, in line with his promise to help the country “as long as it takes” to push Russia from its borders.
But ratification of Biden’s request is highly uncertain thanks to growing partisan division in Congress over how to proceed.
Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy told reporters that he wants to discuss more aid to Ukraine on its merits as a standalone bill, rather than tied to other priorities such as government funding.
But the Senate has other ideas. Leaders in the chamber want to combine Ukrainian aid with other priorities, such as a short-term spending bill that will likely be necessary to avoid a shutdown at the end of September.
The different approaches risk a deadlock that could easily delay future rounds of US aid to Ukraine, raising the stakes for Zelensky as he makes his first visit to the US since his surprise address to Congress at the end of 2022. Zelensky thanked “every American” for their support. For then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Vice President Kamala Harris. It unfolded dramatically Ukrainian flag behind him.
Nine months later, with Republicans now in control of the House majority, there is growing concern among voters about continued support for Ukraine as Russia turns its invasion into a costly war of attrition. These doubts in Congress are concentrated among Republicans in the House of Representatives, many of whom share former President Donald Trump’s “America First” approach and want to halt aid entirely.
The United States has approved four rounds of aid to Ukraine in response to the Russian invasion so far, totaling about $113 billion, with some of that money going to replenish U.S. military equipment sent to the front lines. Most members of the House of Representatives and Senate support this aid, and consider the defense of Ukraine and its democracy a global necessity.
McCarthy stressed the need to oversee Ukrainian aid, but he also did so It was critical From Russia, he criticizes the country’s “child killing” in a speech this summer. But he is trying to reconcile his desire to help Ukraine with the political reality at home, which includes demands from many members of his party to cut government spending.
In some ways, tying Ukrainian aid to other pressing matters may improve the odds of passage quickly. Some lawmakers would be more inclined to vote for aid to Ukraine if it was included in their country’s disaster relief, for example.
But this maneuver will also deeply divide House Republicans, and is sure to anger McCarthy’s critics who threaten to oust him as speaker.
“I don’t know why they would want to put that on a commercial registry,” McCarthy said, using Washington parlance for a short-term, ongoing solution that keeps agencies funded. “I think it should be discussed on its own.”
Meanwhile, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has put aid to Ukraine at the top of his to-do list, and has been speaking from the Senate floor for weeks about the urgency of the action he sees.
He called in inspectors general last week to brief GOP senators on how to track U.S. aid to address concerns about waste and fraud. In one of his speeches on the Senate floor, McConnell responded to critics who say the United States has shouldered too much of the burden on Ukraine by pointing to the aid that is also flowing from European countries.
“In fact, when it comes to security assistance to Ukraine as a share of GDP, 14 of our European allies are already providing more,” McConnell said.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and McConnell called on the senators To meet Zelensky On Thursday morning.
Senator Thom Tillis, a Republican, said he believes the aid should be provided as soon as possible, and the legislative tool for that is unlikely to be a stand-alone bill.
“I personally think we have to go ahead and get this done,” Tillis said. He added: “We have to get the financing to Ukraine done at a time that does not result in a lapse, at least a noticeable lapse, because I think this is a strategic win for Putin and I would never want Putin to have a strategic win.”
But Rep. Ken Calvert, Republican of California, warned against adding aid to Ukraine to the short-term spending bill. He said the focus should first be on passing the comprehensive defense spending bill in addition to other spending bills.
“We can’t shift attention outside of that,” Calvert said. “There is a lot of munitions inside Ukraine now that I think will continue until the end of the year.”
Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Calif., said he was not necessarily opposed to more Ukrainian aid, but he said the average American doesn’t know how the war is going, and the average member of Congress can’t say that either.
“Tell us what you’re doing with the money, and let’s have a discussion about that funding and not shove it down our throats,” Garcia said.
House Republicans hope to put to a vote this week a temporary spending bill that does not include Biden’s aid package for Ukraine.
“I can think of no worse welcome for President Zelensky who visits us this week than this House proposal, which completely ignores Ukraine,” Schumer said.
However, Rep. Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, expressed confidence that aid to Ukraine would continue.
“It must pass. What I’m hearing from our NATO allies…is that if the United States doesn’t get involved, the whole thing will fall apart,” McCaul said.
This article originally appeared on apnews.com