A murky outlook for Ukraine aid with U.S. House leadership in turmoil
WASHINGTON — Additional military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine was on shaky ground earlier this week, before U.S. House Republicans evicted Kevin McCarthy from the speaker’s office.
The revolt by eight members of the House GOP Conference, largely spurred by bipartisan deals McCarthy struck on the debt limit and a short-term government funding bill, complicated prospects for moving additional aid to Ukraine through Congress.
Future relief dollars are now closely tied to who House Republicans elect as their next speaker. The mid-session contest for the gavel currently pits Louisiana’s Steve Scalise against Ohio’s Jim Jordan, though more GOP lawmakers are mulling campaigns to lead their party. An election could be as soon as next week though that’s not certain.
The two lawmakers have slightly different records on Ukraine, with Scalise having supported relief funding in the beginning, while Jordan voted against all the bills that included military and humanitarian assistance.
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Senate backing continues
In the U.S. Senate, both Republicans and Democrats say they’re looking for a path to keep Ukraine in Ukrainian hands and resist the Russian military onslaught to end democracy in the Eastern European country.
Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, chair of the Defense spending panel, said there is likely a path forward for Ukraine aid, despite House GOP infighting.
“I think you’ve got to continue to work in a positive way in the Senate,” Tester said. “And I think, as I told people in the caucus this morning, it’ll always be a s- – – show over there, so let’s do our job.”
Indiana Republican Sen. Mike Braun said any aid for Ukraine will likely be tied to additional funding for border security.
“I think that would unite our conference for the ones that have been lukewarm on Ukraine — thinking that the top priority should be the border. And I think that’s the way it gets through,” Braun said.
“And then the next issue would be for any of us that are fiscal conservatives — are you going to actually pay for it?” he added.
The change in House Republican leadership shouldn’t impact those discussions, Braun said.
Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine said there are enough votes to pass Ukraine aid in the House if the next GOP speaker puts a bipartisan bill on the floor.
“My hope is that we’ll do something significant and bipartisan in the Senate and we may be able to act first to sort of lead the way,” Kaine said.
The next Ukraine aid bill to go to the Senate floor, Kaine said, will likely be structured to provide longer term aid to the country, saying there’s a “logic” to that proposal.
“Rather than try to do this in small bites that make it harder and harder and harder. Let’s just be candid with people about what the longer term need is and see if we could do it,” Kaine said. “And we do think we’ve got the votes in both houses.”
Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst, who sits on the Armed Services Committee, said Wednesday there were no updates on negotiations over military aid to Ukraine.
“We’re going to have to work it with the House obviously, so we’ll see,” Ernst said, deferring to House lawmakers on how a change in leadership could impact prospects in that chamber.
Kansas Republican Sen. Jerry Moran, a senior appropriator, said discussions about providing aid for Ukraine and approving additional money for border security are moving on a separate track from conversations about getting all dozen of the full-year spending bills approved.
Deadline for new spending bill
The deadline for funding the government or passing a second stopgap spending bill is Nov. 17, though that timeline wouldn’t impact negotiations on Ukraine and border security — unless party leaders decide to roll them into one package as they have in the past.
The typical conference process, where House and Senate lawmakers meet to reconcile the differences on legislation, cannot begin until the House GOP decides who leads the party, Moran said.
Conferencing bills, he said, “suggests that someone has the ability to negotiate and work on behalf of the House, which yet has to be determined.”
“It’s a huge challenge but we can compromise on numbers. That’s among the easiest things to do,” Moran said of the full-year government spending bills. “It’s the policy kinds of things that make conference more difficult.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, have pledged to provide more relief funding to Ukraine, though those plans were already in trouble before McCarthy’s removal as speaker.
Scalise and Jordan’s records
Congress has approved four relief packages for Ukraine so far, totaling more than $110 billion in military, economic and humanitarian support. The funding has gone to departments and agencies run by the U.S. government, including the Defense and State departments.
The first aid bill, enacted in March 2022, included $13.6 billion. The funding was added to a $1.5 trillion spending package that included all 12 of the annual government spending measures, but the House used a procedural tool, called “dividing the question,” to take two votes on the package.
The vote on the portions that included military aid to Ukraine as well as other items, got Scalise’s vote, but not Jordan’s support. Both men voted against passing the sections of the package that provided non-military assistance to Ukraine and held numerous other bills.
The second assistance package, passed in May 2022, appropriated $40 billion. Scalise voted for aid while Jordan voted against the bill.
The third relief package, cleared in September 2022, provided more than $12 billion. Both men voted against the legislation, which included a stopgap spending bill, billions in natural disaster relief and increased funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.
The fourth supplemental package, enacted in December 2022, included $45 billion. Both Scalise and Jordan voted against approving the package, which also included all of the full-year government spending bills and other provisions.
Scalise, unlike Jordan, originally backed funding for Ukraine and wrote in a statement alongside other House GOP leaders in February 2022 that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was “reprehensible.”
“We stand in complete solidarity with the innocent Ukrainian people and vow to continue to support them as they defend themselves from Putin’s unprovoked onslaught,” they wrote.
The group of six GOP leaders said that China, Iran and North Korea were watching how the United States would respond to Russia’s war against Ukraine. “They must see us respond firmly to this Russian aggression.”