Ukraine Aid at Stake in House Speaker Fight with Some in GOP Less Wary of Russia Threat

WASHINGTON — Dozens of House conservatives have balked at sending more aid to Ukraine in recent months, and the issue is a flash point as Republicans struggle to pick a new speaker.

For decades, Republican foreign policy orthodoxy would have made it a no-brainer to support a western-leaning democracy invaded by Russia. That’s no longer a given, and among the eight contenders for speaker sentiment ranges from enthusiastic support for Ukraine to deep resistance.

“Some in our party don’t care about defeating Russia,” said Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Humble, a former Navy SEAL. “They don’t understand the strategic importance.”

“This isn’t about Ukraine specifically, but about maintaining America’s deterrence for the next hundred years against our adversaries,” he said.

In July, 70 Republicans voted to prohibit security assistance for Ukraine. That’s a third of the House GOP.

That vote was on an amendment to a defense authorization bill from Rep. Matt Gaetz, the Florida Republican whose revolt toppled Kevin McCarthy on Oct. 3, sending the House into turmoil.

Another amendment proposed by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., to strike $300 million of Ukraine funding also failed, with 89 Republicans votes.

Those were among the key votes on a report card from the Republican Accountability Project, a group led by GOP strategist Sarah Longwell and conservative commentator Bill Kristol.

The group gave “A” grades to two of the speaker contenders that have been stalwarts on votes to aid Ukraine: Majority Whip Tom Emmer of Minnesota and Rep. Austin Scott of Georgia.

Three got F’s: Byron Donalds of Florida, Kevin Hern of Oklahoma and Mike Johnson of Louisiana.

Waco Rep. Pete Sessions got a B, as did Reps. Jack Bergman of Michigan and Gary Palmer of Alabama.

House Foreign Affairs Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Austin, has pressed fellow Republicans not to back away from Ukraine.

“We can’t lose our focus on Ukraine — the largest invasion of Europe since World War II,” he said last week at a hearing on how to divert Russian assets to rebuilding Ukraine.

A White House request for $24 billion in arms and other aid for Ukraine became a point of contention ahead of the government shutdown deadline at the end of September.

Dozens of House Republicans balked and McCarthy, under pressure from the right, excluded the request from the 45-day stopgap deal that expires Nov. 17.

Imagine the resistance to $60 billion, Crenshaw said.

That’s the sum President Joe Biden requested for Ukraine last week as part of a $105 billion security package that includes $14 billion for Israel, $14 billion for the U.S. border and $7 billion to counter China and other Indo-Pacific adversaries.

Even Republicans who support ongoing aid to Ukraine have demanded more clarity on what victory looks like and how the U.S. assistance fits in. Crenshaw accused the Biden administration of a “slow drip” policy on advanced weaponry; Biden has expressed concern about provoking Vladimir Putin into drawing the United States into direct conflict.

Support for Ukraine aid “is diminishing,” Crenshaw said, though “there’s a majority that still supports it. … The American people 90-10 want a secure border. They’re actually like 50-50 on Ukraine.”

The Senate Appropriations Committee set an Oct. 31 hearing on the White House request. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin are expected to testify.

The House cannot act on it until it has a speaker.

McCaul generally supports the proposal.

“I’m in favor of the concept of linking the biggest threats to the free world,” he said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” “The world’s on fire” and abandoning Ukraine now “would be very dangerous.”

It’s a tricky topic among House Republicans.

Hard-right conservatives such as Gaetz and Greene argue that Russia poses no threat to the United States.

Others who embrace the traditional approach to foreign policy find the arguments against arming Ukraine hollow.

“No Americans are getting killed in Ukraine,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “The Ukrainians are destroying the army of one of our biggest rivals. … I have a hard time finding anything wrong with that.”

He also noted that much of the money used to help Ukraine actually stays in the United States, “replacing the weapons that we sent to Ukraine with more modern weapons. So we’re rebuilding our industrial base.”

With beefed-up border security wildly popular among Republicans, Crenshaw and others are pushing GOP colleagues to accept a grand bargain that ties border and Ukraine funds.

But Republicans have become weary of sending economic and humanitarian aid, Crenshaw said, and European, Asian and oil-rich nations should provide that.

“We must be focused on advanced weaponry that will break the stalemate and make Vladimir Putin regret his decision to engage in the largest war of conquest since World War II,” he said.


©2023 The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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