October 02, 2023
Fight over Ukraine funding forms on the horizon
News: Speaker Kevin McCarthy has told the White House that he wants a full briefing for House members on the administration’s strategy in Ukraine. That briefing could come as soon as this week, according to sources familiar with the matter. We’ll see if that gets delayed with the chaos inside the House Republican Conference.
This is the first chapter in the frantic push to get a new tranche of Ukraine aid through Congress.
Let’s start here: McCarthy is a supporter of Ukraine aid. And President Joe Biden seemed to suggest on Sunday that he’d made a deal with McCarthy over getting a vote on a future Ukraine aid package.
But about half of the House GOP is opposed to sending even minimal amounts of new aid to Kyiv. One-hundred-seventeen House Republicans voted against $300 million to train the Ukrainians — the kind of assistance that the United States has been sending since before Russian President Vladimir Putin’s deadly invasion of his neighbor.
Ukraine’s supporters on the Hill understand that it’s going to be incredibly difficult for the House to pass another aid package.
So what are McCarthy’s options? More accurately, what are the Biden administration’s options?
In the GOP leadership’s view, the Biden administration needs to make a very compelling case for aid. McCarthy’s conference is filled with rank-and-file Republicans who think the White House has no strategy for winning the conflict and Kyiv is going to be an endless money pit. That said, the administration did offer a briefing around the time President Volodymyr Zelensky was in D.C. last month, but the House Republican leadership refused, as we scooped.
So for the White House, the Senate might be their best hope. The upper chamber, of course, is filled with a healthy supermajority of supporters of Ukraine aid. Chief among them is Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
And the Senate already has a potential legislative vehicle to use to get this done. The aforementioned $300 million that the House passed — with Democratic votes getting it over the finish line — was already sent over to the Senate. And Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Saturday took an initial procedural step to put the bill on the Senate’s legislative calendar.
Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) held up final passage of the stopgap spending bill Saturday night until he got a commitment from Senate leaders that a Ukraine aid package would be pursued. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, McConnell and top appropriators affirmed this in a statement released shortly after the vote.
Several senators have since suggested to us that the Senate could attach the Biden administration’s full-year Ukraine request — which will be tens of billions of dollars — to the $300 million bill and send it back to the House. McCarthy would then have a choice to make.
Note: Congress may also need to approve new transfer authority for Biden to send weapons to Ukraine from existing U.S. stockpiles. This authority was left out of the CR stopgap bill. The administration has said this is a crucial aspect of the United States’ support for Ukraine.
— Jake Sherman, Max Cohen and Andrew Desiderio
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