Ukraine aid threatened in Republican-controlled House

Illustration of an elephant's trunk with a roll of money in front of a Ukrainian flag

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Tuesday publicly confirmed what many in Washington and Europe privately fear: a Republican-controlled House could close the spigot funding Ukraine’s efforts to defend itself against Russian invasion.

Why it’s important: Unlike aggressive oversight hearings or policy-messaging bills, a Republican majority approach to Ukraine would resonate far beyond the Beltway. A reduction or halt in US military aid would create a geopolitical earthquake with the potential to change the course of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war.

What happens: Even House Republicans who have been outspoken about supporting Ukraine — including McCarthy, who this week compared Putin to Hitler — say there has been a noticeable shift away from what was once a broad bipartisan consensus.

  • “I think people are going to sit in a recession and they’re not going to write a blank check to Ukraine. They’re just not going to do it,” McCarthy said in an interview with Punchbowl News.
  • “I’ve noticed it. You kind of see it on social media, you see it with some of our members,” said Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), though he added that he doesn’t believe the majority of the conference shares those views.
  • Rep. Kelly Armstrong (RN.D.) said the shift is likely driven by voter feedback, telling Axios, “When people see a 13% increase in grocery prices, energy, utility bills double … if you’re a border community , and you’re being overrun by migrants and fentanyl, Ukraine is the furthest thing from your mind.”

Status: In May, 57 House Republicans voted “no” to a $40 billion aid package for Ukraine. That number is poised to rise significantly, especially if more skeptical Republican candidates are swept into Congress in a GOP wave.

  • “After the $40 billion, there were a lot of Republicans who said, ‘This is the last time I’m going to support Ukraine funding,'” said a senior House Republican.
  • “Another billion to Ukraine and 87,000 new IRS agents,” tweeted Texas candidate Wesley Hunt in August. “At this rate, we should at least make them the 51st state so they can start paying some federal income tax.”

The intrigue: Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), a staunch Ukraine supporter who is also a vocal critic of his party’s conservative flank, said the Republican leadership has been “on its toes” from supporting Ukraine for political reasons.

  • “Kevin McCarthy, let’s be clear … his whole existence right now is to please enough people to win the speaker’s chair,” Kinzinger told Axios.
  • A GOP congressional aide echoed that sentiment, saying concern about the House is “overblown,” suggesting McCarthy is “counting votes for the president and doesn’t want to rock the boat prematurely.”

Backstage: Even if McCarthy just quits, conservative factions in Congress are actively working to oppose future aid spending — backed by a powerful complex of outside groups that includes the Heritage Foundation, the Koch Network, FreedomWorks and the Center for Renewing America.

  • Dan Caldwell, senior counsel for Concerned Veterans for America and vice president of foreign policy at Stand Together, both part of the Koch network, told Axios that his groups have sent polls to lawmakers and “activated our grassroots army to lobby members to support a better Ukraine policy.”
  • Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), chairman of the 158-member Republican House Investigative Committee, told Axios, “The RSC believes you can’t lead abroad when you’re so weak at home. Our GOP agenda in the new majority has need to secure our own border and get America back on its feet by addressing energy costs and inflation.”

What to see: The party is united on at least one position when it comes to Ukraine: Every dollar sent should be thoroughly accounted for.

  • “What Republicans want to see is more accountability and oversight, and also making sure it goes to the right purpose,” said Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the top Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee and another vocal Ukraine supporter.
  • McCaul added that his colleagues have complained that the US foots the bill more than other major NATO allies, such as Germany and France.

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