Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) are headed for a clash next year over spending more money to help Ukraine.
McConnell has led Republican support for sending generous military and economic aid to Kiev and warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin could threaten Poland and other European allies if not stopped in Ukraine.
McCarthy, who would become speaker if Republicans win control of the House, is putting the brakes on more Ukraine support, warning this week that there will be no “blank check” from a GOP majority.
McConnell made an unannounced trip to Ukraine in May to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. He said he hoped “not many members of my party will choose to politicize this issue,” and also highlighted that House Republicans voted for a $40 billion Ukraine package that month.
But Republican support for the war in Ukraine is eroding as the war drags on, and experts predict the United States could be heading into a recession next year, which could reduce support for sending tens of billions in extra aid to Ukraine.
It is the first significant policy difference between him and McConnell that will come under the spotlight after Election Day. Congress reconvenes next month to finish the 117th pending casesth Congress.
Congress last month approved $12.3 billion in military and economic aid to Ukraine as part of a spending freeze measure. McConnell voted for it and McCarthy voted no, as did the vast majority of the Republican Conference of Representatives.
Senate aides say they expect the year-end omnibus spending package to include more money for Ukraine and speculate that President Biden may ask for a large sum for Ukraine to cover what could be months of legislative gridlock in the House next year .
McCarthy will still be in the minority in the lame-duck session, but he will have much more influence over spending if he becomes speaker. He can refuse to put bills on the House floor next year that don’t have the support of a majority of his conference.
“I would imagine there would be significant tension because McConnell certainly won’t back down from continuing to support Ukraine,” a Senate Republican aide said.
“One way to solve this is to put in a huge chunk of money [the omnibus spending package] in December,” the aide added.
But the GOP source said McConnell and McCarthy could strike a deal on Ukraine money next year by demanding that Democrats accept more oversight of military and economic aid to Ukraine.
Late. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) held up an aid bill for Ukraine earlier this year in an effort to add language creating a special inspector general to oversee spending. That idea could gain more traction if Republicans control the House.
The tension between GOP leaders also points to a broader divide. While a number of prominent GOP figures, including Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and former Vice President Mike Pence, have pushed back on McCarthy’s skepticism, his comments echoing the concerns of former President Trump and his allies in the House.
In an interview published Tuesday, McCarthy told Punchbowl News, “I think people are going to sit in a recession and they’re not going to write a blank check to Ukraine.”
His statement immediately sparked outrage among some national security-minded Republicans, and Cheney blasted the idea that House conservatives would withhold more aid to Ukraine as “disgraceful.”
“I don’t know that I can say I was surprised, but I think it’s really shameful that Minority Leader McCarthy suggested that if the Republicans get the majority back, we will not continue to provide aid to Ukrainians,” she said at an event hosted. of the Harvard Institute of Politics.
Former Vice President Mike Pence also pushed back against Republican opposition to future Ukraine aid laws, telling an audience at the Heritage Foundation: “We must continue to give Ukraine the resources to defend itself.”
McConnell remained silent on the issue Wednesday, taking a cautious approach less than three weeks before Election Day, when he will need Republican voters across the ideological spectrum to show up.
Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist, said McCarthy is more aligned than McConnell with former President Trump’s America-first foreign policy.
“McCarthy is saying exactly what the Republican base is saying when it comes to Ukraine and the threat from China,” he said, noting that some conservative Republicans say money spent on Ukraine draws attention away from China, which they see as a greater threat .
“We’re not saying, ‘Don’t support Ukraine,’ but we’re saying, ‘You can’t have blank checks, billions of dollars going down the drain, weapons you can’t track, all while you have a big problem with China,'” O’Connell said.
He added: “McConnell’s position reflects more of the traditional Republican position [the United States] acts as the global police.”
If Republicans win a majority in the House of Representatives, McCarthy could also demand a spending freeze until they take control of the chamber next year.
Michael E. O’Hanlon, a senior fellow and director of foreign policy research at the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank, said “it will be fascinating to watch” the debate over Ukraine aid play out among Republicans.
He warned that McCarthy must be careful not to appear to be inadvertently helping Putin.
“I find it hard to believe that deep down McCarthy and most Trump Republicans really want to be seen as the people who are preventing Ukraine from staying afloat as a country,” he wrote in an email to The Hill. “The political dangers of actually helping Putin win would be enormous — to say nothing of the ethical pitfalls.”
McCarthy softened his stance on Wednesday, telling CNBC in an interview: “I think Ukraine is very important.”
“I support making sure we move forward to defeat Russia in that program. But there should be no blank check on anything. We’re $31 trillion in debt.”
Conn Carroll, a former Senate aide who advised conservative Republicans in Congress, said American interests do not completely overlap with Ukrainian interests and that there should be more oversight.
“The relationship between the United States and Ukraine overlaps a lot, but at some point they start to diverge,” he said, pointing to recent reports that U.S. intelligence officials believe the Ukrainian government approved the killing of Russian citizen Daria Dugina, the daughter of a prominent Russian nationalist.
“We need to know how this money is being spent and to make sure that it is not supporting assassination attempts that are not conducive to American national security interests,” said Carroll, who is now the comments editor of The Washington Examiner.
O’Hanlon of Brookings said House Republicans will fight more spending on Ukraine if they win back the majority, but they are likely to agree sometime next year to more aid.
“I expect the process to get uglier and more contentious if Republicans win back the House,” he said. “But I really don’t expect the results to be radically different once the smoke clears and the appropriations bills are written.”