Divided GOP tiptoes on Biden request for more Ukraine aid

Republicans are tiptoeing around a recent request from the Biden administration for billions in Ukraine aid, as the party faces internal divisions on the path forward for assistance.

The White House last week asked Congress for more than $37 billion in additional assistance for Ukraine amid Russia’s ongoing invasion. And while some Republicans say they’re supportive of the amount, many more have been cautious to take a position just yet.

“It’s a lot of money. I think we’ll have to have an open discussion on it,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, said on Tuesday, shortly after the request was made public.

While there is broad support for Ukraine military assistance among Republicans in both chambers, there has also been resistance about other forms of aid and how it’s being accounted for.

“There’s strong bipartisan support for supporting Ukraine, but I think there’s also an interest in having accounting for the dollars that have already been spent,” Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. two Senate Republican, said Thursday.

“I think we’re gonna have to resolve that issue,” Thune told The Hill, adding: “It’ll get worked out one way or the other. But a lot of this stuff, I think right now, it’s probably gonna get punted to the next Congress would be my guess.”

There is some urgency among lawmakers to take up Ukraine aid following spillover from Russia’s war into Poland earlier this week, where an apparent, errant Ukrainian missile explosion killed two Polish citizens.

Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.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 “as we’re finishing the budget for this year.”

Lawmakers are seriously eyeing attaching Ukraine funding to must-pass government funding legislation during the lame-duck session, as leaders seek to cinch an omnibus funding deal by year’s end.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) expressed confidence on Tuesday that Congress will pass an omnibus bill with aid for Ukraine in the coming weeks.

However, it’s unclear whether Congress will be able to pass an omnibus by Dec. 16, when funding is due. It could instead pass a continuing resolution to stave off a shutdown, as both sides struggle to find agreement on an overall topline figure for next year’s spending.

There have also been rifts amongst Republicans over whether to delay larger decisions around new funding into next year to allow the next Congress more say on how the government should be funded for fiscal year 2023, which began in October.

There is adamant support from both parties to pass aid for Ukraine during the lame-duck period, particularly as uncertainty swells around whether a GOP House could impede funding next year.

“I think what some people are concerned about is the change in the House,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) told The Hill on Wednesday.

“I think there’s some questions as to what the House is going to do once a change is over,” Capito added. “We’ll just have to see how that falls out. I can’t make a prediction there.”

A minority of outspoken Republicans have criticized aid for Ukraine when there are needs in the U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who has voted against earlier aid packages to Ukraine, introduced a privileged resolution on Thursday to audit U.S. assistance to Ukraine, part of her general rejection of sending American assistance abroad.

“I voted ‘no’ from the beginning, and I’ll continue to vote ‘no,’” she said during a press conference last week.

Fifty-seven House Republicans voted against a $40 billion aid package for Ukraine in May, including Greene, and she said she expects that number to grow.

This is likely to include Rep.-elect Cory Mills (R-Fl.), who lent his support to Greene’s resolution on Thursday.

“Americans deserve transparency of where their money goes, that’s our job as elected officials,” he said.

The State Department’s Office of Inspector General has an ongoing audit of how assistance to Ukraine is being disbursed. The Biden administration, as part of its funding request to Congress, earmarked $20 million for “oversight and accountability” to “maintain ongoing efforts to work with the Ukrainian Ministry of Finance and other Ukrainian government institutions on their monitoring, transparency, verification, and reporting related to their use” of American support to the government in Kyiv.

Recent polling does show support for Ukraine aid is on a downward trend among registered Republicans. In a poll released earlier this month by the Wall Street Journal, 48 percent of registered Republicans said the U.S. is doing too much to support Ukraine.

But Rep. Tom Cole (Okla.), ranking Republican on the House Rules Committee, who is supportive of continued U.S. assistance, said on Thursday he thinks most Americans don’t realize the stakes the Ukraine-Russian conflict poses to national security.

“If the Ukrainians fail, I think the odds of China doing something dangerous in the western Pacific go up dramatically,” Cole said, referring to concerns among the U.S. and allies that China is weighing an invasion of neighboring Taiwan based on how America and its allies maintain solidarity for Ukraine.

“I think we have a national interest here and I’m never going to be ashamed of supporting people that are fighting for their lives literally, against a brutal aggression that they did not in any way, shape or form, encourage,” the congressman continued.

Republicans worried the U.S. could be drawn more directly into a wider war are pushing diplomacy after the two deaths in Poland, which unlike Ukraine is a NATO member.

“I think it was a wake-up call to how close we are being drawn into this through the NATO Treaty,” Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) told The Hill, referring to mutual defense commitments among NATO members. Massie is a co-sponsor to Greene’s audit resolution and is critical of American assistance to Ukraine.

“It’s a chance for us to sort of take a sober look at what commitments we actually have if that were to have been a missile from Russia,” Massie said.

The explosion in Poland has underscored the high-stakes as Russian attacks on Ukraine have intensified — even as Ukraine has scored impressive battlefield victories.

National Security Spokesperson John Kirby told reporters on Friday that the administration supports a diplomatic negotiated settlement but that the timing is up to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

“It’s difficult for anybody to imagine that Mr. Zelensky would be ready to sit down and talk while his citizens are literally being slaughtered almost on a daily basis by the Russians,” he said.

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