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Updated Oct 2, 2023, 4:57am EDT
politics

What’s the endgame on Ukraine aid?

Tom Brenner for The Washington Post via Getty Images
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The News

The path forward for additional U.S. aid to Ukraine is murky after lawmakers opted not to include any in the temporary government funding bill Congress passed this weekend. Republican leaders already are demanding it be linked with border security measures.

The circumstances have left some Ukrainians feeling deflated. “I am in despair,” Oleksandra Ustinova, a Ukrainian member of parliament who heads a commission that tracks foreign military assistance, told Semafor.

The White House is projecting more optimism. In a speech on Sunday, President Biden said he expected Congress to pass more Ukraine funding and suggested that he and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, D-Calif. had made a deal to hold a vote on more assistance.

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“We’re going to get it done,” Biden said. “We have time, not much time, and there’s an overwhelming sense of urgency.”

But the contours of a Ukraine package — how large it would be and what it might be paired with — as well as the timing of a vote are not clear, particularly in the House, where McCarthy now needs to worry about a threat to his speakership.

In an interview on CBS News, McCarthy suggested that Ukraine assistance would be contingent on the Senate taking action on border security, after the House passed a bill along party lines earlier this year.

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“I support being able to provide the weapons to Ukraine, but America comes first,” he said.

Asked about suggestions he had made a bargain with Democrats on Ukraine aid, a McCarthy spokesperson told Semafor: “Speaker McCarthy has been clear and consistent: we have an obligation to fix the crisis at the border and to ensure any request for further aid to Ukraine is matched with a sound strategy and accountability. The House will continue to discuss these challenges in the weeks to come.”

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Know More

The White House has asked Congress to approve $24 billion in additional security, economic, and humanitarian aid for Ukraine to last through the end of the year, warning that money is quickly running out for military equipment.

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Many members were concerned about the fate of Ukraine assistance over the weekend when it was left out of the funding package, so much so that Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo. actually held up the short-term funding bill over the issue for a few hours on Saturday before it eventually passed with bipartisan support.

Privately, Ukraine supporters tried to provide assurances. One Democratic aide told Semafor that Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., a key McCarthy ally, expressed confidence over the weekend to members that Congress would pass more Ukraine assistance, as did Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md.

Echoing McCarthy, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. said on CBS that a Senate bill should combine disaster aid, Ukraine assistance, and border security measures together to pass. He and other members are arguing that the Congress should approve a package much larger than the White House’s request, so that it covers Kyiv for a full year rather than a few months (this would mean that Congress wouldn’t need to keep voting on Ukraine aid for the next year).

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Morgan’s view

This was always going to be a difficult fight. There is bipartisan support for Ukraine aid, but Republican support is dwindling — last week, more than half of House Republicans voted against a bill allocating $300 million to arm Ukraine — which has complicated the issue for McCarthy.

And as one Republican aide told me over the weekend: McCarthy’s much more immediate challenge is defending his speakership from a conservative plot to oust him. If he survives that fight — which will require Democratic votes — it might make it easier to then quickly put Ukraine assistance up for a floor vote.

But it’s also unclear that McCarthy’s plan to link Ukraine aid with border security would make it easier to pass. While pairing them might win Republican votes, it could also alienate Democrats. And if you take the White House’s warnings at face value, there is a very limited amount of time for Congress to approve more assistance before it lapses. Ukraine’s supporters have warned this would have catastrophic consequences for Kyiv on the battlefield.

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The View From Ukraine

While Ustinova expressed extreme disappointment, other Ukrainians are more hopeful. “All key partners of Ukraine are determined to support our country until its victory in this war,” Andry Yermak posted on Telegram, according to the New York Times. Ukrainian foreign affairs minister Dmytro Kuleba wrote on X that Russia would be mistaken “if it thinks it can ‘wait out’ military aid for Ukraine,” while emphasizing plans to ramp up Ukraine’s own domestic production of weaponry.

“I hope everything will work out well,” Maria Mezentseva, a Ukrainian member of parliament who has made trips to the U.S. to advocate for support, told Semafor. She said she was considering another visit in December.

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