The collapse of Ukraine aid in Congress did not happen overnight; it was the result of a long and tumultuous process. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell had been apprehensive about the waning political support for Ukraine, as a vocal minority within his own party intensified their efforts against providing U.S. money for the fight against Russia. McConnell tried to rally the hard-right faction of his party through speeches and overtures to the White House but failed to secure passage of a scaled-back $6 billion aid package for Ukraine, dealing a blow to the administration’s efforts to protect the young democracy.
The failure to approve Ukraine aid highlights the influence of a faction of Republican lawmakers who, despite being a minority, hold significant power in Congress. This hardened band of lawmakers, many of whom are aligned with Donald Trump, flexed their muscles and overcame the will of the majority. Their ability to obstruct the passage of crucial aid calls into question the future course of action and raises concerns about the stability of Washington.
President Joe Biden expressed his worry about the situation, acknowledging that while a majority of House and Senate members support funding Ukraine, the power wielded by the minority is a cause for concern. To address this, President Biden plans to deliver a major speech on U.S. aid to Ukraine and formulate a plan to ensure the continuous flow of assistance despite the upheaval caused by the minority obstructionists.
As Washington regroups in the aftermath of the Ukraine aid collapse, there is a flurry of political blame being thrown around. Both the White House and Congress face scrutiny for their inability to work around the obstructionists’ actions. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, a staunch Trump ally, wrote that not another penny should be spent on Ukraine, arguing instead for funds to be directed towards securing the U.S.-Mexico border. This blame game exacerbates the challenges facing Ukraine aid and further complicates finding a solution.
Mitch McConnell has been pushing for support for Ukraine aid for months, ever since his meeting with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv. He made repeated speeches, held discussions with allies overseas, and made Ukraine his priority among his colleagues. However, when the White House announced Biden’s $24 billion aid request in August, McConnell knew that it lacked the necessary support. Despite McConnell’s efforts, the support for Ukraine funding from the Republican defense hawks he met was lacking, leading him to conclude that passing the full $24 billion request was impossible.
In response to McConnell’s apprehensions, the White House engaged in discussions with McConnell’s team to explore alternative means of sending aid to Ukraine. These conversations focused on smaller amounts of funding and the importance of Ukraine aid. McConnell reluctantly agreed to advance a package of $6 billion for Ukraine through the Senate, which passed with overwhelming bipartisan support.
However, the situation became more complicated in the Republican-led House. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene and other hard-liners forced House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to strip a significant portion of Ukraine security assistance funds from a defense funding bill. This demonstrated the growing influence of the minority group, further shattering the majority’s support for Ukraine aid. McCarthy, facing a potential government shutdown, removed the $6 billion Ukraine aid from the federal funding package in an attempt to avert a shutdown.
As House preparations were underway to avoid a government shutdown, McConnell convened a closed-door lunch meeting with Republican senators. Despite McConnell’s initial intention to retain the Ukraine aid in the final package, the sentiment in the room was against it. South Dakota Senator John Thune, in talks with McCarthy, conveyed that the package could not pass with the Ukraine aid attached. Thune suggested moving forward with the House version, excluding the Ukraine money, to avoid a shutdown.
Listening to his colleagues, McConnell changed his position and announced that Republicans would vote against advancing the Senate bill, waiting to see what their House colleagues would do. Subsequently, the House approved the package without the $6 billion Ukraine assistance, leaving out not only the funds but also the provisions outlining the transfer of funds to Ukraine. This outcome was precisely what McConnell had attempted to avoid.
In the aftermath, the White House emphasized that McCarthy had committed to more extensive assistance for Ukraine beyond the package. However, McCarthy denied making a “secret deal” with Biden and clarified that the commitment was to maintain intact the ability to transfer funds for Ukraine. The path forward for Ukraine funding remains uncertain, with McCarthy’s ousting from office and the need for a new House speaker. President Biden’s upcoming speech on Ukraine aid and ongoing discussions with Congress aim to resolve these uncertainties and ensure continued support for Ukraine.
The collapse of Ukraine aid in Congress represents a significant setback for U.S. support for Ukraine’s fight against Russia. The obstructionist actions of a minority faction within the Republican party highlight the challenges of overcoming their power. As the White House and Congress seek to regroup and find a way forward, decisive action and bipartisan cooperation are needed to ensure the protection of Ukraine’s young democracy.