Just days after the White House announced it would send thousands of controversial cluster munitions to fuel Ukraine’s counteroffensive against Russia, President Joe Biden is signaling that American support for the beleaguered nation will continue no matter how long the war lasts.
“We will not waver,” the President said Wednesday at a speech in Lithuania following this week’s NATO summit, where world leaders announced a major security program to boost Ukraine’s defenses over the long term. “We’re going to help Ukraine build a strong, capable defense across land, air, and sea, which will be a force of stability in the region and deter against any and all threats.”
But there may be a significant obstacle in the way of Biden’s promise of additional military and humanitarian funding: Congress, which will soon be asked to fund Biden’s newly announced long-term security commitment to keep Kyiv’s war machine humming. A growing number of Republicans in Congress have balked at the billions of taxpayer dollars the U.S. has already sent to boost Ukraine’s war efforts against Russia, and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has said that Ukraine should not receive a “blank check.” Despite Biden’s promises on the world stage, it’s not clear he’ll have enough support at home to keep the cash flowing.
Further complicating Biden’s pledge, a group of right-wing House Republicans this week are trying to use their leverage to force a vote to strip money for Ukraine from the annual defense spending bill, which would provide the nation with billions in additional military assistance. “Congress should not authorize another penny for Ukraine,” said Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican from Georgia, who proposed an amendment to the defense bill that would end a $300 million program to train and equip Ukrainian soldiers. “Ukraine is not the 51st state of the United States of America.”
Other conservative lawmakers weighed in on the issue while discussing amendments to the defense bill, which was expected to receive approval on Friday but is now in jeopardy as the far-right threatens to hold up the process. “The United States of America is not the world’s police force, and we are not the world’s piggy bank,” Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Republican from Florida who co-sponsored an amendment to block Biden from sending cluster munitions to Ukraine, said.
Although the proposal to defund the Ukraine war effort stands almost no chance of passing the House or Democratic-led Senate, it highlights the intense divisions in Congress over the war at a critical moment in Ukraine’s counteroffensive, which officials say has moved more slowly than expected. Biden on Wednesday stressed that helping Ukraine defeat Russia is critical for American national security and reassured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that the U.S. would continue to support the nation. “The idea that the United States can prosper without a secure Europe is not reasonable,” Biden said. He told reporters afterwards that he is considering sending Ukraine long-range Army Tactical Missile Systems, or ATACMS.
But it’s not clear if Biden can muster enough bipartisanship to fund it. While McCarthy has rebuffed plans to boost Ukraine aid, his Senate colleague Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday signaled his support for helping Ukraine and praised European nations that have increased their security spending to back the nation. He also seemed to take aim at his congressional colleagues who oppose the funding measures, pointing out that the U.S. ranks 13th on Ukraine assistance as a percentage of GDP. “Some nations are digging even deeper into their own arsenals and making a much greater relative investment of support,” he said. “Here at home, the American people overwhelmingly share that resolve.”
Politically, providing aid to Ukraine is a tough issue for the GOP. Several Republican presidential candidates have questioned the wisdom of sending more money and weapons to Kyiv, and a recent poll by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute found that while more than 70% of Republicans want Ukraine to win the war, only half support sending U.S. military aid to help the nation defeat Russia. The skepticism was on full display last year when 57 House Republicans voted against a measure to provide $40 billion in military and humanitarian assistance for Ukraine. The U.S. has spent over $100 billion on aid to Ukraine since Russia invaded the country in February 2022.
As lawmakers debate the defense bill this week, the far-right flank is trying to force Congress to consider the merits of defunding the war effort—and it may prevent or at least delay Biden from fulfilling his funding promise to Ukraine.
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