Congressional supporters of Ukraine say they won't give up after a bill to keep the federal government open excluded President Joe Biden's request to provide more security assistance to the war-torn nation.
Still, many lawmakers acknowledge that winning approval for Ukraine assistance in Congress is growing more difficult as the war between Russia and Ukraine grinds on. Republican resistance to the aid has been gaining momentum in the halls of Congress.
Voting in the House this past week pointed to the potential trouble ahead. Nearly half of House Republicans voted to strip USD 300 million from a defence spending bill to train Ukrainian soldiers and purchase weapons. The money later was approved separately, but opponents of Ukraine support celebrated their growing numbers.
Then, on Saturday, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy omitted additional Ukraine aid from a measure to keep the government running until Nov. 17. In doing so, he closed the door on a Senate package that would have funneled USD 6 billion to Ukraine, roughly a third of what has been requested by the White House.
Both the House and Senate overwhelmingly approved the stopgap measure, with members of both parties abandoning the increased aid for Ukraine in favour of avoiding a costly government shutdown.
The latest actions in Congress signal a gradual shift in the unwavering support that the United States has so far pledged Ukraine in its fight against Russia, and it is one of the clearest examples yet of the Republican Party's movement toward a more isolationist stance.
The exclusion of Ukraine funding came little more than a week after lawmakers met in the Capitol with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who sought to assure lawmakers that his military was winning the war, but stressed that additional aid would be crucial for continuing the fight.
After that visit, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said that one sentence summed up Zelenskyy's message in his meeting with the Senate: “If we don't get the aid, we will lose the war,” Schumer said.
Yet, McCarthy, pressured by his right flank, has gone from saying “no blank checks” for Ukraine, with the focus being on accountability, to describing the Senate's approach as putting “Ukraine in front of America.” He declined to say after the vote on government funding whether he would bring aid for Ukraine up for a House vote in the coming weeks.
“If there is a moment in time we need to have a discussion about that, we will have a discussion completely about that, but I think the administration has to make the case for what is victory,” McCarthy said.
In the Senate, both Schumer and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell pledged to move quickly to try and pass the full White House request. But it was clear that goal will be increasingly difficult as more rank-and-file GOP senators have questioned the aid or demanded that it be attached to immigration policy that would help secure the southern border — echoing similar demands in the House.
Florida Sen. Rick Scott, a Republican who voted for the spending bill after the Ukraine aid was stripped out, said that Congress needs to have “a conversation with the American public.” He said he was optimistic after seeing the money taken out of the bill.
“In my state, people want to be helpful to Ukraine, but they also want to be helpful to Americans," Scott said. "And so they want to really understand how this money has been spent.”