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Updated Feb 2, 2024, 11:00am EST
politics

Former Trump adviser: Republicans will pass a military-only Ukraine aid bill

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The News

House Republicans would rally behind a Ukraine assistance package that includes only military aid and strips out economic support for the war-torn country as it fights the Russian invasion, former President Donald Trump’s one-time national security adviser Robert O’Brien told Semafor.

“I believe if you split out the weak border provisions, you significantly reduce the economic aid and keep the focus on getting Ukraine weapons and ammo, it’s going to have a lot of support in Congress on the GOP side including from conservative Republicans,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien, who has been supportive of more funding for Ukraine, argued that the U.S. should be sending purely military support to Kyiv while Europe takes care of financial assistance for the country. He said that conservative hesitancy about future assistance is rooted in opposition to economic support, and concerns that this kind of funding could be more easily abused than donations of military hardware.

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“I believe there is a strong consensus even among the most conservative and Trump Republicans to give the Ukrainians the weapons they need to beat Russia but that we should let the Europeans do the economic aid,” he said in an interview Thursday.

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Know More

As part of its supplemental funding request, the Biden administration has pushed for tens of billions more in military equipment for Kyiv, in addition to economic and humanitarian assistance.

The request, which also includes funding for Israel, border security, and countering China, is at the center of a high-stakes debate on Capitol Hill. A bipartisan group of senators is about to release a compromise agreement on border policy changes designed to unlock a vote on the broader package and attract more GOP support. However, House Speaker Mike Johnson and other Republicans in both chambers have assailed the package based on reported details, insisting it won’t pass the House. This has raised doubts about the fate of aid for Ukraine and Israel that was supposed to be included in the broader package.

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O’Brien, who said he met with Johnson and his team back in December and stays in regular touch with Republicans on Capitol Hill, acknowledged that he’s unsure what Johnson will ultimately do with the package. He also echoed Johnson’s criticism of the forthcoming Senate-negotiated border security package, calling it a “Democrat wishlist of proposals that have been accumulating for 20 years.”

“I think the various bills will be split up. We’re going to have a separate bill for Israel, a separate bill for Ukraine, a separate bill for Taiwan and a separate bill for the border,” he said.

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Morgan’s view

A Ukraine aid package that focuses only on military power would likely garner more Republican support in the House, and could be easier for Johnson to bring to the floor (even as a standalone package).

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It might not fully satisfy the White House, which has been pushing Congress to pass direct budget support, but a tailored security aid package would be more palatable than none at all. The Europeans have shown a willingness to cover economic aid, with the European Union approving a €50 billion ($54.5 billion) financial support package on Thursday.

The path forward for U.S. aid to Ukraine is still murky, however, especially with the Senate border deal looking shaky. A small number of vocal conservatives on the House side oppose future Ukraine aid altogether, and the conservative House Freedom Caucus threatened to revolt over any foreign aid package that isn’t tied to stringent border security changes. Recent votes and polls have signaled GOP opposition to Ukraine aid is growing. During a closed-door meeting with Baltic officials earlier this week, Johnson acknowledged that the national security package may be split up, without expanding on what that could look like. Senate Democrats thus far have also been largely unwilling to break the package apart.

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The View From Trump

Former President Donald Trump has raged against the border deal on the campaign trail, urging Republicans to abandon it. But Trump, who at times has expressed affinity for Russian President Vladimir Putin, hasn’t said too much about his position on Ukraine assistance, beyond insisting that he would end the war “within 24 hours.”

“My impression is that he wants to make sure that Ukraine stays independent and free. That is why he sent Ukraine the critically important Javelin missiles when he was in office,” O’Brien said. “President Trump also believes — and he said several times on the campaign trail — that he’d end the war on day one of his administration. What I believe he means is … he would bring the full weight of American sanctions on Russia to bring Putin to the table.”

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