The collapse of Ukraine aid in Congress has been a long time coming, but it was exactly what Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell had feared. McConnell had been sounding the alarm, cautioning that political support for Ukraine was at risk as a vocal minority of Republican lawmakers intensified their efforts against sending U.S. money overseas for the fight against Russia. However, despite McConnell’s warnings and efforts to steer his party, a scaled-back $6 billion military and civilian aid package for Ukraine failed to pass in last week’s deal to avoid a U.S. government shutdown. This failure highlights the perils ahead in Washington, as a hardened band of Republican lawmakers, many aligned with Donald Trump, flex their power to overcome the will of the majority.
The failure to approve Ukraine aid was a significant setback for the Biden administration, which seeks to lead a Western alliance in protecting the young democracy from Russian aggression. President Joe Biden acknowledges his concerns about the situation, but remains hopeful that the majority of members in the House and Senate will support funding for Ukraine. Biden plans to deliver a major speech on U.S. aid to Ukraine and is working on a plan to ensure the flow of assistance. However, the sudden shift in support has unleashed political blame, with accusations flying over the inability of the White House and Congress to work around the minority of lawmakers putting aid at risk.
Mitch McConnell had been working to build support for Ukraine aid for months, putting it at the top of his priority list since his meeting with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv in May. McConnell delivered numerous floor speeches, engaged with allies overseas, and made a compelling case to his colleagues on Capitol Hill. However, after the White House announced Biden’s $24 billion request for Ukraine aid in August, McConnell realized it did not have the necessary support to pass. Despite McConnell’s attempts, a group of Republican defense hawks made it clear that the overall support for Ukraine funding would be lacking. With a looming government shutdown, McConnell urged the White House to explore alternative ways of providing aid, albeit in smaller amounts.
The failure to pass Ukraine aid also exposed a lack of prioritization from Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill. While there was overwhelming bipartisan support to counter Putin’s invasion, Democrats did not fully articulate Ukraine as a top priority. House Republican demands for budget cuts further complicated the situation. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy faced pressure from hard-liners within his party, who forced him to strip $300 million of Ukraine security assistance funds from an annual defense funding bill. This move demonstrated how a growing faction of Republicans, approximately 100, were exerting control over the majority. It foreshadowed the challenges ahead.
As the House was preparing to avert a shutdown, McConnell convened a lunch meeting with Republican senators. During the meeting, it became clear that retaining Ukraine aid in the final package would be impossible. South Dakota Senator John Thune, the second-ranking Republican, had been in talks with McCarthy and believed that passing the House version without the Ukraine money was the best way to avoid a shutdown. McConnell adjusted his stance based on his colleagues’ opinions, and the Senate voted against advancing the bill. Ultimately, the final bill approved by the House did not include the $6 billion Ukraine assistance or provisions to transfer funds to Ukraine.
In the aftermath of the collapse of Ukraine aid, political blame has been directed at McCarthy and doubts have arisen regarding his commitment to Ukraine funding. President Biden intends to address the issue in a forthcoming speech, but uncertainties remain. The White House awaits the election of a new House Speaker and is working with Congress to ensure the transferability of funds and provide renewed support for Ukraine.
The collapse of Ukraine aid in Congress serves as a significant setback for those seeking to protect and support the young democracy in its fight against Russian aggression. It exposes the challenges of navigating political alliances and the power of minority factions within Congress. The next steps for Ukraine aid remain uncertain, with the Biden administration and Congress working towards a solution, while political blame circulates in Washington. The fate of Ukraine aid hangs in the balance, with the hope that democracy will ultimately prevail.