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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky Meets With U.S. Lawmakers On Capitol Hill

Ukraine aid faces new challenges amid House GOP shake-up

If passing a new aid package for Ukraine was hard with Kevin McCarthy running the House, it’s about to get even more difficult.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), one of two declared candidates for speaker following McCarthy’s stunning ouster, told reporters he wouldn’t bring a Ukraine funding bill to the floor, citing the need to address the U.S.-Mexico border crisis among other domestic priorities. And Jordan told Texas Republicans behind closed doors that he’d want the Ukraine cost offset — going further in that direction than McCarthy ever did.

Jordan’s comments raise the specter of an intense clash with the Senate, where Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are promising to push through a major aid package for Kyiv. There’s still overwhelming bipartisan support for Ukraine in the Senate, but in the House, GOP backing is fast eroding.

“Whoever the speaker is, if they don’t want to put a Ukraine bill on the floor, I think we have to send them something that the vast majority of members want,” Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) told us. “And if he or she won’t put something like that on the floor… we have to have a major, thorough discussion about it that persuades both members and the public.”

Multiple Republican senators who support Ukraine aid told us that any package would need to include border-security money and potentially policy changes in order to sell it to the House. Those same senators said they’re sensitive to the criticism from the right that the GOP cares more about foreign borders than our own.

It all points to a bid by Republicans in both chambers to use Ukraine as leverage in the border policy dispute. A group of GOP senators tried to craft a border amendment to the stopgap funding bill. In the end, they couldn’t find a sweet spot on funding and policies that could satisfy conservatives.

“That’s the challenge — how do you write, within the appropriations process, items to fix the southern border?” said Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), who supports Ukraine aid.

Senate appropriators told us after a classified briefing Wednesday that a Ukraine package is much more urgent than they previously thought.

For one, McCarthy had vowed to re-up President Joe Biden’s authority to transfer weapons from U.S. stockpiles to Ukraine as soon as this week after it was left out of the stopgap funding bill. It will be up to the next speaker to make the same commitment — or not.

Several senators said Ukraine’s lifeline will become increasingly dire without new authorities and funding over the next month. Senators were told during the briefing that funding isn’t just needed for Ukraine but to backfill the United States’ own weapons stockpiles.

Yet with McCarthy gone and House Republicans mired in an election to replace him, it could be weeks before Congress sends anything to Biden’s desk — especially on Ukraine.

“It’s hard for us to imagine how democracy allows a minority position to ultimately become U.S. policy,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said. “If the decision in the House is to elect a speaker who will fight against Ukraine funding, that’s a decision that will be written about in the history books.”

Democrats were open to the idea of including border funding in a Ukraine-focused bill, especially since the Biden administration already requested some more money in that area during August.

But Democrats are also wary of an effort by Republicans to use the appropriations process to enact policy changes that would be non-starters for their colleagues.

“The issue about funding for border security, that’s not an issue,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) told us. “Where there would be more of a problem is if it’s more than funding and it’s all kind of a dramatic rewriting of the immigration laws.”

— Andrew Desiderio

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