Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenksy will return to Capitol Hill on Thursday for his second visit since his country came under siege by Russia. But this time, the political landscape has changed.
A year ago, Zelensky faced a much different reception in Congress. Democrats controlled the House and public support for funding the war effort in Ukraine was greater. As he stood to demand more money and weapons before a joint meeting of Congress, Zelensky found himself in front of a packed house, the members adorned in yellow and blue supporting Ukraine. Now Ukraine’s president will return to Congress with a new president – facing a rebellion on his right – who has yet to promise future aid to Ukraine and will have to balance his own political future with the future that Zelensky hopes for his country.
“Was Zelensky elected to Congress?” Is he our president? I do not think so. I have questions: Where is the accountability for the money we have already spent? What is this plan for victory? asked House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Tuesday.
Just this week, McCarthy’s right wing has openly taunted its members for supporting Ukraine. Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida posted a photo of McCarthy in a Ukrainian pin and with a yellow and blue pocket square, writing, “How does this make you feel?”
Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia posted a scene of Lord Farquaad calling his troops into battle from the animated film “Shrek,” tweeting: “Washington warlords are talking to the American people about Ukraine.”
President Joe Biden is also expected to welcome Zelensky to the White House on Wednesday. Biden is seeking to hear from Zelensky a “battlefield perspective” as a second fall of war approaches, John Kirby, National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, told reporters.
Biden should talk to Zelensky about battlefield needs, Kirby said, but that comes as CNN reports that ATACMS, the Army’s long-range tactical missile systems, may not be part of a new weapons package, which Zelensky suggested to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. be a disappointment. ATACMS are “not excluded,” Kirby said.
Zelensky’s visit comes as House Republicans are engaged in a bitter fight over government funding on the home front and prospects for more money for Ukraine – while very much alive in the Senate – are much less clear in the House, even though the Biden administration has sent a request for $24 billion in support.
“The first thing I’ll tell you is there’s no money in the House right now for Ukraine,” Rep. Byron Donalds, a conservative House Freedom member, told CNN Florida Caucus. “It’s not the right time for him to be here, frankly. It’s just reality.
Texas Rep. Chip Roy, another conservative, told CNN: “When was the last time Zelensky was here? Just before the money. Do you think it’s a coincidence? I don’t know. This is why this match against Ukraine must stop.
Zelensky will meet with leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives, including McCarthy, on Thursday, but the speaker said no one-on-one meetings were planned nor would Zelensky have the opportunity to meet with the GOP conference where he could speak directly to members. opposed to financing his war effort.
“I think the more people that could hear it directly, the more impact it would have,” House Speaker Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican, told CNN.
Kirby said there was a “critical need” for Congress to grant the White House’s request for $24 billion in additional funding for Ukraine for its counteroffensive capabilities, saying the aid “will have a significant impact on Ukraine’s struggle.”
Instead, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will hold a joint meeting with their members in the Senate.
Despite a decline in public support, there is still strong bipartisan support for funding Ukraine on Capitol Hill, but it will be up to McCarthy to decide whether legislation will even be introduced. The speaker said he didn’t want the funding to be tied to a short-term spending bill and he also said it should be a standalone issue. But time is running out, with aides familiar with the matter telling CNN that current U.S. funding accounts for Ukraine could be exhausted as soon as the end of the year.
“It’s becoming an issue that time after time, minute by minute, every question is: Is President McCarthy going to do the responsible thing by introducing the bill that we know will pass with wide bipartisan support?” said Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger of Virginia. “If he lives in this constant fear that a member to his far right will take the action of a motion to vacate the chair, thereby removing him from the presidency, then we make day-to-day decisions or don’t take day-to-day decisions. today’s decisions because a guy wants to keep his job.”
At the McCarthy conference, the issue of aid to Ukraine was presented by isolationists as a choice between helping the Americans or helping Ukraine.
“I think every person in this Congress, Democrat, Republican or in between, is appalled, shocked and disagrees with what Russia and Vladimir Putin have done and are doing. That said, our borders are wide open. Our people cannot pay their electric, gas and food bills and before we send blank checks to another country, we need to take care of our own people,” said Rep. Scott Perry, a Republican Conservative from Pennsylvania.
A CNN poll in August found that a majority of Americans are now opposed to allowing more funding for Ukraine, and among Republicans, that figure stands at 71 percent. It’s a reality reflected in the way Republican members — even those who don’t rule out additional funding — talk about U.S. support for Ukraine.
“Do you know who is currently winning the war in Ukraine? I don’t think the average member of Congress understands what’s going on in Ukraine,” said Rep. Mike Garcia, Republican of California. “I don’t think the executive branch is aware of what’s happening in Ukraine right now. Look, we invested $100 billion of American taxpayers’ money in Ukraine, we owe it to American taxpayers to get an accounting of that money, of the weapons, to have a current state of what’s happening in Ukraine … and what. is necessary to win and how we will participate before investing.
Rep. Garret Graves, a Republican from Louisiana, blamed the administration for the drop in support, although he argued it remained essential.
“The fiscally responsible thing to do here is to stop this in Ukraine. This spreads to NATO countries and you trigger article five, you’re not going to talk about tens of billions of dollars, you’re going to talk about billions of dollars and you’re going to talk about the American military. in the first line. That’s not an option,” Graves said. “This administration has accountability and transparency issues that it needs to resolve before it deserves another cent.”
One of the toughest balances Zelensky will face on Capitol Hill on Thursday is recognizing why he needs U.S. aid, why it hasn’t been enough so far and how long he thinks it will last. really on this support while public opinion is tired by the crisis. a war effort is looming.
There is still a strong coalition of GOP support for Ukraine funding on Capitol Hill, like McConnell, but Republicans have at times criticized the president’s way of engaging in the war and selling out U.S. aid . These Republican lawmakers argue that Biden could do more to sell the importance of the war effort to the public and to ensure that members of Congress are kept informed about the location and impact of the funding they are providing. appropriate.
“The consequences of pulling the plug on Ukraine are enormous,” said Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. “This will lead to more wars, not fewer. This will destroy a world order that has existed and benefited the world. So I couldn’t disagree more with my colleagues who say that Ukraine doesn’t matter to us. That matters a lot.