U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy takes questions from reporters on Friday, Sept. 29, 2023 at the U.S. Capitol (Jennifer Shutt/States Newsroom).
WASHINGTON — Republican and Democratic lawmakers are searching for a way to clear more aid for Ukraine, after Congress approved a short-term spending bill that didn’t include any additional money for the country.
President Joe Biden on Sunday said that U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy agreed to find the votes needed to pass a supplemental spending bill to provide additional military and humanitarian relief for Ukraine as it resists invasion by Russia — though the California Republican hasn’t made such a commitment publicly.
“I fully expect the speaker to keep his commitment for the secure passage and support needed to help Ukraine as they defend themselves against aggression and brutality,” Biden said Sunday. “And folks, you know, there’s (an) overwhelming number of Republicans and Democrats in both the House and the Senate who support Ukraine. Let’s vote on it.”
McCarthy didn’t commit to putting aid for Ukraine on the floor in the next 45 days during a press conference Saturday.
“Listen, what the Senate wanted to do was focus on Ukraine in front of America. I understand our responsibilities, but I’m going to put America first,” McCarthy said.
“If there is a moment in time we need to have a discussion about that, we will have a discussion completely about that. But, I think, the administration has to make the case for what is victory,” McCarthy said. “And I’ve asked the administration to come down and talk to our members about that.”
McCarthy indicated that any legislation to provide additional relief for Ukraine would likely need to be tied to border security funding as well as policy changes.
“If we’re worried about Ukraine’s border, we should worry about America’s border too,” McCarthy said.
The California Republican, however, did say he still supports Ukraine.
“What Russia has done is wrong, but I believe in whatever we do, we have to have defined what victory is and what the plan is,” McCarthy said. “And I think what the White House needs to do is come down and talk with us and lay out a part of it where we have a say as well.”
Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz on Monday made Ukraine aid a central reason he may offer a motion to remove McCarthy as speaker, arguing during a floor speech that McCarthy must explain whether there’s a “secret side deal” with Biden to vote on Ukraine aid.
“Members of the Republican Party might vote differently on a motion to vacate if they heard what the speaker had to share with us about his secret side deal with Joe Biden on Ukraine,” Gaetz said. “I’ll be listening. Stay tuned.”
Emergency request for $24 billion
The White House asked Congress to provide $24 billion in additional relief to Ukraine in an emergency funding request it released in early August. That same request asked lawmakers to approve $4 billion to address immigration and border security.
U.S. senators planned to appropriate $6.1 billion for Ukraine in a short-term government funding bill they released last week, though that bill was put on a shelf this weekend in order to avoid a partial government shutdown. The Senate, instead, approved a stopgap spending bill from the House that didn’t include the Ukraine relief money.
Lawmakers from both parties have pledged to find a path forward, including Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, who temporarily held up the short-term spending bill Saturday night to secure a commitment for debate on more aid to Ukraine.
“I objected tonight to proceeding to the continuing resolution because it failed to provide additional money for Ukraine. Senate Leadership needed to reaffirm our bipartisan commitment to sustain funding for Ukraine,” Bennet said in a written statement. “The Senate leadership has released such a statement, and, as a result, I voted to keep the government open.”
Senators line up behind relief
Bennet will not be alone in his efforts to get more funding to Ukraine. Several of his colleagues from both parties have expressed support for more relief to the country.
Senate Minority Whip John Thune, a South Dakota Republican, told reporters Saturday that Congress would take up the issue of Ukraine aid at some point.
“We’ll deal with it,” Thune said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, has been adamant the United States needs to provide additional military and humanitarian assistance for Ukraine, saying last month during a floor speech that American support is “helping degrade Russian military strength and encouraging our allies to ‘Buy American’ and invest in their own defense.”
“If we fail to help Ukraine stop Russia in its tracks, there is every reason to believe Russia and China will both be emboldened,” McConnell said.
Ongoing support for Ukraine, McConnell said, shows “American leadership.”
“And Republicans should be pressing President Biden to show more of it instead of dreaming about American retreat,” he said.
Minnesota Democrat Sen. Amy Klobuchar told reporters following a closed-door meeting on Saturday that Democrats’ No. 1 goal will be “uninterrupted aid to Ukraine.”
“That’s what we concluded in that room,” Klobuchar said, before calling out GOP lawmakers who have traveled to Ukraine or met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, but not pressed for more relief to the country.
“All these people go and have their picture with Zelenskyy and stand there and believe they’re with Ukraine. I believe that with Ukraine, I believe there’s a bunch of Republicans who are with Ukraine,” Klobuchar said. “And so the big test and the big thing that matters is going to be what happens with the supplemental and what happens in the next few weeks.”
Connecticut Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy told reporters Saturday the lack of relief dollars for Ukraine in the short-term government funding bill “raises the stakes for Ukraine aid later in the year.”
“Every day that goes by that we don’t get them additional money is a day that Russia gets closer to being capable of winning this war,” Murphy said. “So I think there’s a lot of work to do.”
Murphy said senators were learning “how much wiggle room” there is for Ukraine to continue receiving weapons and support from previous aid packages in the meantime. He also noted that House lawmakers have shown there’s broad bipartisan support for additional relief to the country.
The House voted 311-117 last week to approve $300 million in additional aid to Ukraine as part of a stand-alone bill, after House leaders used a procedural maneuver to remove that funding from the full-year spending bill for the U.S. Defense Department.
Hard-line Republicans were threatening to vote against the full year Pentagon spending measure had the aid remained in the legislation. All 117 no votes were from GOP lawmakers, while another 101 Republicans voted to support the funding.
Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine told reporters Saturday there are enough votes to pass aid to Ukraine in that chamber, but he declined to speculate about whether McCarthy would actually put such a bill on the House floor.
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