The measures approved at the last – very last – hour in Congress in Washington have avoided the closure of the US government. But the law signed by President Joe Biden just minutes before midnight on Saturday, which allows temporary funding for the operation of federal institutions, has left a victim by the wayside: Ukraine.
The measure — introduced by the Republican-majority House of Representatives and endorsed by the Democratic-majority Senate — excludes funds to continue military assistance to the country invaded by Russia. Supporters of that aid, a clear bipartisan majority on Capitol Hill — Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell is one of its most enthusiastic supporters — have promised to resubmit a funding proposal in the coming days. But something has become clear in the negotiations and votes throughout this week of order of the Republican hard wing: the resistance of the radical republicans to continue the aid to the government of Volodímir Zelenski is increasingly firm and extends more among the ranks of that party, especially in the lower house.
It is a prospect that, looking ahead, is of great concern in the White House and among those in favor of aid to Kiev. Elections are approaching in November 2024 that are promised to be very close, in which at stake, in addition to the presidency of the country, the majorities in the Senate and the House of Representatives. And as the campaign heats up, expect Republican lawmakers to become more and more reluctant to bless multibillion-dollar contributions to a nation that their voters are far away, physically and mentally.
Biden interrupted his Sunday break for a televised address on the issue that had not been scheduled on his agenda. "I want to say to our allies, the American people and the people of Ukraine, that they can count on our support. We will not abandon them," he said. In an earlier statement, he insisted: "We cannot allow, under any circumstances, that US support for Ukraine be interrupted. I hope that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., will remain committed to the Ukrainian people and get the support needed to assist Ukraine at this critical time."
Other aid supporters have put a good face on bad weather. Democratic Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer said the measure passed this weekend is only temporary: "We will continue to fight for more economic and security aid for Ukraine." "Most Republicans in the Senate remain committed to helping our friends on the front lines, to invest more in American power that strengthens our allies and deters our main strategic adversary, China," McConnell said. "I am confident that the Senate will approve new urgent aid to Ukraine later this year," the Republican leader added.
At least for now, when it comes to the conflict in the country under attack, the members of the hardliners, the Freedom Caucus, have gotten what they wanted. Over the past week they prevented the proposals that were voted on from including the assistance items that the White House wanted: neither the 24,000 million dollars (about 22,600 million euros) initially raised from the presidential office, nor the 6,000 million dollars planned in a Senate initiative to cover the expenses of the US Government in the short term.
A financial assistance package contained in a specific provision for the State Department did go ahead. But to pass the House on Wednesday a routine and relatively modest $300 million in military aid, it had to be separated from the Pentagon funding proposal. It got the green light, but mostly thanks to Democratic votes. And he pointed to a worrying trend for Kiev's supporters: a majority of Republican congressmen (117 out of 222) spoke out against it.
An amendment proposed by the de facto leader of this radical wing, Congressman Matt Gaetz, which completely banned assistance to Ukraine, received a resounding defeat: more than 300 congressmen rejected it. But 93 lawmakers, all Republicans, backed her. Just three months ago, a similar measure also from Gaetz had only garnered 70 yeses.
"This is a critical time to have these funds," White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told CNN on Friday. Ukrainian forces are in the midst of a counteroffensive to regain territory occupied by Russia; The arrival of winter will complicate their progress, he recalled. The US government, through the mouth of this high official, also insists that a withdrawal of assistance by Washington could trigger a domino effect in other allied capitals, which in turn "could falter in their contributions." That would be a certain defeat for Ukraine that would leave Russia on Europe's doorstep and send a signal of weakness from Western powers to China in the Asia Pacific.
Zelenskiy had traveled to Washington the previous week, precisely to implore congressmen not to cut off aid. Without it, he argued, his country will lose the war. And the defeat will have serious consequences for the world order defended by the United States, he insisted, in a message that he reiterated again and again to the 100 senators – among whom support for Kiev is, with isolated exceptions, unanimous among the two parties – and to the leaders of the House of Representatives, including McCarthy himself.
The Ukrainian president's appeals fell on deaf ears between the most radical Republicans in the House and the Trumpist wing of that party. The favorite candidate among Republicans, former President Donald Trump, urges day in and day out to close the tap of contributions to Ukraine. In the debate between the candidates of that formation to the White House this week, some of them – Vivek Ramaswamy, the candidate closest to Trump in his proposals, and the governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis – reiterated their intention to cut that assistance and allocate those funds to other internal American priorities.
Among those who have voted against the pro-Ukraine measures are Republican lawmakers who have so far defended the government in Kiev, such as Congressman Mike Garcia of California. Their argument: the war is dragging on, the counter-offensive is not yielding great results, the Ukrainians are receiving more and more forceful weapons, but the end of the conflict is still not in sight. And it is not clear, they argue, that the Ukrainians make the best use of those funds.
"It is not clear to me that the Ukrainians have a clearly defined strategy for victory, which will drive the Russians out of the eastern Ukrainian regions," Garcia said in a video Wednesday. "It is not clear to me that our countries, the United States and Ukraine, are aligned on the strategic goal of repelling Russia. And it is not clear to me that Ukrainians are accepting military advice on how to win the war," he added, adding that he cannot support "a blank check" for Kiev.
On the other side of the ideological arc, Democratic Congresswoman Betty McCollum, her party's top appropriator for defense funds, issued an opposing appeal: "Let's not abandon our democratic partners. Let us not abandon our EU and NATO allies now. Let's not abandon Ukraine."
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