With vote tallies coming in and it looking more likely that the GOP will take majority control of the House of Representatives in 2023, recent remarks by prominent Republicans have called into question whether U.S. funding for Ukraine will, in fact, continue next year.
Republicans Move Toward a House Majority
Votes were still being counted as of Thursday morning, but Republicans had captured at least 210 House seats, according to projections by Edison Research, eight short of the 218 needed to take the majority.
And Republicans remained in the lead among the 33 House contests yet to be decided. Those still in play included 21 of the 53 most competitive races, suggesting the final outcome might not be determined for some time.
House GOP Leader McCarthy: No “Blank Check”
On October 18, Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy of California said in an interview, “I think people are gonna be sitting in a recession and they’re not going to write a blank check to Ukraine. They just won’t do it…Ukraine is important, but at the same time it can’t be the only thing they do and it can’t be a blank check.”
The next day, he doubled down on the statement, saying, “[T]here should be no blank check on anything. We are $31 trillion in debt.”
During his post-election press conference on Wednesday, President Biden insisted, “We’ve not given Ukraine a blank check,” pointing out that Washington had refused to provide some military equipment or assistance requested by Ukrainian leaders, including certain types of aircraft.
He added that it’s his “expectation” that the aid will continue to Ukraine uninterrupted even if Republicans take the House majority.
However, some lawmakers, like Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Chip Roy (R-TX) have used McCarthy’s comments to argue that a Republican majority should scale back aid to Ukraine.
Last week while campaigning in Sioux City, IA, Greene declared, “Under Republicans, not another penny will go to Ukraine.”
And a GOP Congressional source who favors pulling back on Ukrainian aid told CNN, “McCarthy cracked the door open here. He is leaning more towards our direction of pulling back. You also have [FOX News hosts] Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham banging the drum on this.”
Rift Among Republicans
However, there is a rift among Republicans. House GOP Conference Policy Committee Chair Gary Palmer (R-AL) said he’s tried to sway party skeptics.
“The evidence for how effective our support of Ukraine has played out right in front of us,” he stated in September. “My problem with some people is they have tunnel vision to the degree they cannot see the consequences of inaction.”
And Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) said on Sunday, “I don’t want to end up in a war with Russia. If we don’t continue to help Ukraine the right way—we can’t waste our dollars—then they’re going to be in Poland, or some other country where we will be at war because they’re part of our NATO alliance.”
Could Defense Secretary’s Words Be Used Against Him?
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in October that while Russia remains an “acute” threat, China is the greater threat to the U.S. because Russia “can’t systemically challenge the United States over the long term” while China “is the only competitor out there with both the intent to reshape the international order, and increasingly the power to do so.”
Could Republicans use Austin’s words to lend support to ending aid to Ukraine against Russia?
“There are a lot of members that want to see more accountability in the Department of Defense and more of a focus on the threats that are out there,” Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), currently the House’s number two-ranked Republican, said last week. “China is moving very aggressively to build up a naval fleet, and right now our naval fleet is in decline.”
However, Rebecca Grant, National Security Analyst with IRIS Independent Research, tells Political IQ, “I think the Ukraine fight, especially in the Senate, has had very bipartisan support, and I don’t see that changing, partly because I think we’re going to see some more Ukrainian progress down in the south through the end of the year here.”
Zelensky Appeals for More Aid
Last Thursday, a bipartisan handful of U.S. Senators met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in what his office called an “important signal of support” for his country and its territorial integrity.
Zelensky updated the Senators about the situation on the frontline and appealed for more military aid to counter Russia’s ongoing aggression.
Of note, the Republican among the delegation, Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, did not seek re-election this year.
U.S. Cuts Another Check
On Friday, the Biden Administration announced a new $400 million assistance package for Ukraine, bringing the current total commitment in security aid to $18.2 billion since Russia invaded in February, according to the Department of Defense.
But this is still a fraction of the $40 billion in aid that Congress pledged when it voted back in May on the Additional Ukraine Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2022. A little more than one-fourth of House Republicans voted against this bill at the time.
Ukrainian Officials Raise Some Concern
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba admitted in late October that he was “concerned” about statements like McCarthy’s, but he added, “I think we’ll fix it and I am certain that we will handle these risks effectively and that aid to Ukraine will not be cut.”
He expounded further, “People make political statements before elections and pursue different policies after the elections. There may be some voices, they may be influential. I don’t say that we are not concerned. We are. But I think we will be able to handle it.”
And last week Ukrainian Ambassador to the U.S. Oksana Markarova said, “The support that we feel from the American people is so strong, and I don’t see that being changed. And that support has always been very bipartisan.”
She added, “Both our countries are democracies. There could be changes, and the changes are good. This is what differentiates us from Russia, right?”