President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy will use their meeting Thursday to press for sustained support to counter Russia’s war machine — with allies fearing that the conflict will drag on for years — just as hardline Republicans are threatening to halt additional aid.
(Bloomberg) — President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy will use their meeting Thursday to press for sustained support to counter Russia’s war machine — with allies fearing that the conflict will drag on for years — just as hardline Republicans are threatening to halt additional aid.
Zelenskiy plans a pair of meetings with Biden in the late afternoon and one with military leaders at the Pentagon, yet the success of his trip hinges on his morning visit to Capitol Hill, where he’ll try to rally support for a new weapons package in exchanges with lawmakers from both chambers and both parties.
Far-right representatives, who represent a small but crucial bloc of the Republican majority in the US House, have increasingly called for the US to end assistance to Ukraine, saying the funding antagonizes Russian President Vladimir Putin, could be better spent domestically, or should instead be devoted to bolstering Taiwan’s defenses.
Freezing new aid has become a ransom demand in the broader clash over government spending and conservative Republicans’ efforts to challenge House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
White House officials said they believed the vast majority of both Republicans and Democrats support additional assistance and were optimistic that Zelenskiy’s presence could help quell the opposition.
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“As we get closer towards the end of the year, it gets a lot tougher to maneuver on the ground, and frankly, it’s tougher to conduct air operations as the weather gets worse heading into December,” President Zelenskiy about what he’s facing in this counteroffensive,” White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Wednesday.
Yet the request also comes as Ukraine’s partners increasingly see a prolonged battle. A senior official from one European Group of Seven country said the war may last as long as six or seven more years — an assessment shared by other allies and largely based on Ukraine’s slow progress in its counteroffensive.
White House officials have expressed confidence bipartisan support for more aid still exists, especially among the leadership in both parties, but the funding question is now tied up in intra-party fighting within the GOP.
McCarthy told reporters Wednesday that Ukraine would be separate from any stopgap funding bill that would keep the government open for the next few weeks as lawmakers debate a broader package. The speaker has supported aid but said that he would ask Zelenskiy “What is the strategy to win?” and “are the resources going in the right place?”
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While most Republicans have supported Ukraine aid, a band of about 70 have opposed it, and McCarthy can lose no more than four Republicans to pass any bill without Democratic votes.
His caucus includes members like Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who has said she won’t back any legislation aiding Ukraine, calling it “a red line.”
Representative Scott Perry, the head of the conservative Freedom Caucus said this week: “I think every single person in this Congress — Democrat, Republican or in between — is shocked and appalled with what Vladimir Putin has done and is doing.”
“That said,” he added, “our border’s wide open, our people can’t afford their gas bills, their electric bills or their food bills. Before we send blank checks to some other country, we need to take care of our people.”
Support among Republican senators is greater than in the House. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell told reporters he was looking forward to hearing from Zelenskiy and has reiterated the US should continue aid.
There are outliers among the Senate GOP too, including Rand Paul of Kentucky, who vowed to slow-walk any aid to Ukraine, and Josh Hawley of Missouri, who told reporters after leaving an administration briefing on Ukraine Wednesday evening that the US had gotten essentially nothing out of its investment so far, with no end in sight for spending requests.
The issue has also become a topic in the Republican presidential primary where candidates from former President Donald Trump to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy have questioned the US commitment to Ukraine.
More hawkish Republicans, at the same time, are pressuring the administration to accelerate weapons deliveries.
–With assistance from Erik Wasson and Laura Litvan.
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