Republican senators are sounding optimistic about the prospect of a large Ukraine assistance package passing in the upper chamber before the end of the year.
“We were all in agreement that the funding needs to be done in order to persuade [Russian President Vladimir] Putin that a strategy to just sit this out and try to outlast everybody is not going to work,” Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told Semafor. He spoke Wednesday afternoon following a closed-door briefing with White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Ukraine assistance.
Risch was complimentary of Sullivan’s briefing, which included other senators leading national security and appropriations committees.
“We don’t always get good briefings. This was a good one,” he told Semafor. “We’re all on the same page.”
Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, told reporters that Ukraine funding would be included in an omnibus package if a deal is reached and predicted it would be a “solid number.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. also told PBS’ Lisa Desjardins that he supports the full White House request of nearly $38 billion in security, economic, and humanitarian aid for Ukraine and believes there are the votes to pass it.
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio also said the Senate had a good chance of passing the assistance and suggested the final number may well be higher than the White House’s request.
“Last time, we increased the amount,” he said, adding that it’s “not the time to pull back.”
Approving a large package of Ukraine assistance now as part of a broader funding deal would help Republicans avoid any internally messy fights over approving more aid in the new Congress, when they’ll be in charge of the House. While there’s broad bipartisan support for Ukraine, a small but vocal minority of conservatives, most of them in the lower chamber, have opposed further aid to the country or called for more oversight of the funds.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. on Tuesday reiterated that he doesn’t support a “blank check” to Ukraine. “This is hardworking taxpayer money and I want to make sure whatever funding we spend goes to the right places,” he said following a meeting at the White House with President Biden.
The White House has rejected the notion that the U.S. is sending “blank checks” to Ukraine. National security spokesman John Kirby told reporters that Sullivan’s briefing Wednesday was proof “that we are doing this in full consultation, in full transparency with members of Congress, laying out for them in great detail what we’re asking for and why.”
Room for Disagreement
While Senate Republicans appear to be lining up behind Ukraine funding, the aid could still get ensnared in the broader fight over the omnibus bill, which would raise spending on a host of domestic and military programs. Senate conservatives are making a push to nix any omnibus deal before the end of the year, which they say unnecessarily compromises their ability to negotiate a more favorable package with a Republican-controlled Congress.
A group of GOP senators on Wednesday sent a letter to McConnell insisting on a short-term continuing resolution that funds the government until the next Congress starts. They included Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., who ran unsuccessfully for Minority Leader against McConnell last month, as well as Sens. Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, and Mike Braun.
“No additional spending, no additional policy priorities should be included,” they wrote. “Any urgent items that require the Senate’s attention should be considered separately and under their own terms.”