Skepticism is growing among House Republicans on the approval of more Ukraine funding as Congress faces its first test on America’s role in the war against Russia.
The House could face a vote as soon as this month as the Senate looks to fold a Ukraine aid package into a continuing resolution that would push back the deadline for a potential government shutdown.
While a minority wing of far-right lawmakers have long opposed more Ukraine funding, several GOP lawmakers told The Hill this week that more moderate House Republicans are also raising concerns.
“It’s not just the Freedom Caucus; I think there’s a lot of people that are concerned with funding,” said Rep. Lisa McClain (R-Mich.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee. “I think it all depends on what’s in the bill.”
McClain said she wanted Congress to focus the spending bills on keeping the federal government running and on domestic crises like the recent wildfires in Hawaii.
“We have the appropriations bills right that we need to get out,” she said. “That is super critical. But also what I’m more concerned about is disaster relief for the United States. That’s what our focus is on right now.”
Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), a former chair of the House Freedom Caucus, said he would not support a new Ukraine package and doubted any Ukraine funding would be moving to the floor anytime soon.
But he was hesitant to say the opposition would ultimately have enough votes to stop approval of Ukraine aid.
“We’ve got a lot of war hawks in Congress,” he said, “so I’m not sure.”
Though the Republican opposition to U.S. military support for Ukraine has steadily grown over the past year and a half of the war — both in Congress and among voters — a majority of the GOP caucus and almost all Democrats have overwhelmingly passed previous spending packages for Kyiv.
But the next vote on Ukraine aid will be the first on a major package since Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) took the gavel promising no more “blank checks” to Ukraine.
The uneasiness in the House comes as the Senate plans to include Ukraine funding in a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government funded as annual appropriations bills are worked out.
If the House refuses to pass a CR with the Ukraine funding attached, it could be punted to later this year and attached to other spending bills or considered on its own.
Punchbowl News reported this month that McCarthy does not want Ukraine funding in a CR but will move to pass it as a separate supplemental — but only if he wins additional funding for the border.
Congressional action is in response to President Biden’s August request for $24 billion to support Ukraine, including $13 billion in security assistance. Biden included the request as part of a $40 billion package that includes disaster relief funds.
The House is also ensnared in an impeachment inquiry into Biden, which may impact the spending talks.
Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), an Armed Services Committee member, said the House has “a lot of other issues ahead” of Ukraine funding.
“Additional funding for Ukraine is going to be difficult to sell to the American people because every day that we go on fewer Americans support the war in Ukraine,” she said.
A CNN poll in August found a majority of Americans, 55 percent to 45 percent, oppose more aid to Ukraine, though that is split on party lines. About 71 percent of Republican respondents said the U.S. should not provide additional funding, according to the poll, while 62 percent of Democrats back more funding.
Other polls, including a Reagan Institute poll over the summer, have indicated stronger support. An August Fox News poll found a growing number of Americans were skeptical of backing Ukraine but the plurality, or 40 percent, said support should stay the same.
The debate comes at a critical moment for Ukraine, which is struggling to gain ground in its counteroffensive launched earlier this summer and will need a steady supply of weaponry and equipment to stay in the fight.
Congress approved $113 billion in total aid for Ukraine last year, about $47 billion of which translated directly to supporting Ukraine’s military needs.
But that pool of money is running out fast. It’s unclear how much money is left exactly because of the Pentagon’s massive accounting errors, but publicly available data shows about $44 billion has been spent so far, leaving just a few billion left.
It’s not only Democrats who are pressuring the House GOP to get on board with new funding.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on the floor this month that skeptics of Ukraine aid were making “faulty arguments,” arguing the war was worth funding.
“Standing with our allies against [Russian President Vladimir Putin] is directly and measurably strengthening the U.S. military,” he said. “Our support to Ukraine is grinding down one of America’s biggest strategic adversaries.”
Since taking over the House in January, there has been a persistent fear among Ukraine’s supporters that Republicans will stymie more aid.
That bubbled to the surface in July, when 70 Republican lawmakers supported a failed bid to insert an amendment in a draft version of the annual defense bill that would have cut off all U.S. military funding to Ukraine.
Republican presidential candidates such as entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and former President Trump are also giving voice to the growing skepticism showing up in polls.
There’s also concern that Ukraine could be a casualty of McCarthy’s fraught relationship with the Freedom Caucus, which released a list of demands in August in order for members to back the spending bills. One of those positions was outright opposition to “any blank check for Ukraine in any supplemental appropriations bill.”
Rep. Warren Davidson (R-Ohio), a Freedom Caucus member, said he was hopeful McCarthy would keep Ukraine funding off the floor entirely.
“We have other things that we need to resolve,” he said. “ The House needs to stay focused on funding the government.”
Davidson wrote Thursday on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, that he will oppose any future aid package to Ukraine “until the Biden administration provides Congress with a clear mission” in the war.
The Biden administration maintains that it has been clear on its goals in Ukraine.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters Wednesday that he doesn’t “know how many times I’ve answered this question in the last year and a half.”
“We want to see Ukraine succeed on the battlefield. We want to see them get all their territory back. We want to see their sovereignty respected,” Sullivan said. “We want to see no Russian troops inside Ukraine. We want to see the war end.”
“And it could end today, obviously, if Mr. Putin would do the right thing and just get the hell out,” he added. “That’s clearly not going to happen right now.”