The Biden administration on Friday announced its largest drawdown yet in US military assistance to Ukraine, but there are lurking concerns that Republicans wielding newfound power in Washington could stand in the way of future aid – especially as chaos brews in the House.
The administration announced a new $2.85 billion drawdown for Ukraine, part of more than $3 billion in new military assistance to Ukraine. The drawdown, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday, will include “Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, artillery systems, armored personnel carriers, surface to air missiles, ammunition, and other items to support Ukraine as it bravely defends its people, its sovereignty, and its territorial integrity.”
Blinken said the administration would work with Congress to “to provide an additional $907 million of Foreign Military Financing under the Additional Ukraine Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2022.”
“Funds will support Ukraine and countries impacted by Russia’s war in Ukraine,” Blinken said in a statement.
California GOP Rep. Kevin McCarthy, who served as House minority leader in the last session and is now pursuing the House speakership, said in October that Republicans might pull back funding for Ukraine in 2023 if they took the majority in the 2022 midterm elections. Still, after making those comments the GOP leader worked behind the scenes to reassure national security leaders in his conference that he wasn’t planning to abandon Ukraine aid and was just calling for greater oversight of any federal dollars.
But there’s now concern that McCarthy’s troubled bid for the speakership – a history-defying effort that has led to more than a dozen unsuccessful votes this week – could put further limitations on Ukraine aid.
Two of the Republicans who had opposed McCarthy until Friday afternoon – Florida Rep. Byron Donalds and Texas Rep. Chip Roy – had called on the House to change leadership and debate rules over Ukraine aid. Other Ukraine aid skeptics have continued to oppose McCarthy’s bid.
Several Republican members who switched their votes to support McCarthy on Friday said they are encouraged by a framework of an agreement, but provided no specifics about the deal and said talks are ongoing.
For now, concern among Biden administration officials about the possibility of shrinking aid is somewhat tempered by the $45 billion in Ukraine assistance that Congress approved as part of its massive spending bill at the end of last year.
That number was even higher than President Joe Biden requested – a reflection of Democrats’ concern that additional funding wouldn’t be as forthcoming in a GOP-led House. In some ways, that number was an insurance policy against Republican resistance and the view inside the White House was that that figure would sustain US support for several months.
Administration officials are doubtful additional Ukraine aid will be passed this fiscal year. They believe the $45 billion will be the last major package of Ukraine aid before the current spending package expires on September 30.
Rules changes to the budgetary process could significantly hamper Congress’ ability to pass new aid come September and certain conservative Republicans have vowed to oppose any new Ukraine funding.
There are also concerns among foreign diplomats about the implications the House speaker negotiations could have on the future of US support for Ukraine.
One diplomat told CNN they believe the impasse “definitely” signals trouble for Ukraine aid moving forward, as many of those who have fought McCarthy’s speakership have in the past spoken out against additional assistance for Kyiv.
“This is a harbinger for a protracted legislative paralysis,” the diplomat said, adding that “the Freedom Caucus – which is not particularly pro-Ukrainian – has just demonstrated its clout.”
Others noted they were watching closely to see the kinds of maneuvers McCarthy would make to secure the role, which could potentially include cuts to aid.
Another diplomat told CNN they’re personally concerned about “the policy concessions McCarthy has to make, and if they are going to affect US role in the world.”
A third diplomat expressed concerns concessions like crucial committee assignments, such as the House Rules Committee, could be given to lawmakers who have advocated against more aid to Ukraine, which could create immense hurdles for passing additional assistance legislation.
White House officials, before the current predicament on Capitol Hill, were skeptical that Ukraine aid would dry up completely. They have pointed out Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell is among the most ardent supporters of Ukraine, and note McCarthy has pledged continued support for Ukraine.
Biden relayed in November that he did not believe Ukraine aid would dry up in a Republican Congress, saying that he “would be surprised if leader McCarthy even has a majority of his Republican colleagues who say they’re not going to fund the legitimate defensive needs of Ukraine.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday welcomed the latest drawdown, saying it was an “awesome Christmas present for Ukraine!” And lawmakers in Ukraine told CNN they are not concerned that the future of assistance is at risk, noting the strong past bipartisan and public support for aiding their country.
One lawmaker noted that the presumed incoming Republican heads of the Foreign Affairs and Armed Services committees are strong supporters of Ukraine.