The White House has requested $24 billion in emergency aid for Ukraine, on top of the more than $100 billion in economic and security assistance already provided to the war-torn country, and lawmakers in both parties had hoped to include some portion of those funds in the stopgap funding bill that Congress passed late Saturday. But growing resistance among Republican hardliners to sending more money to Ukraine prompted negotiators to drop the roughly $6 billion aid package from the last-minute agreement.
The $6 billion would have provided $1.5 billion for the Department of Defense to replenish its own stock of weapons and equipment already sent to Ukraine, and another $1.5 billion for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which allows the Pentagon to order new items from defense contractors.
In a letter to Congressional leaders, Defense Department Comptroller Michael McCord said the Pentagon has about $1.6 billion left in the replenishment fund, but the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative has been exhausted. In addition, the Pentagon can continue to transfer about $5.5 billion worth of weapons to Ukraine due to accounting errors made in previous efforts.
McCord warned lawmakers that without additional funding, the U.S. will have to limit shipments of air defense weapons, ammunition, drones and breaching equipment that are “critical and urgent now as Russia prepares to conduct a winter offensive.”
Mark Cancian of the Center for Strategic and International Studies told the Associated Press that Ukraine could start feeling the pinch from a lack of new funding in just a few weeks. “If there’s no new money, they’re going to start feeling it by Thanksgiving,” Cancian said.
In Congress, some Ukraine supporters portrayed the failure to provide more aid as a victory for Russia. “Putin is celebrating,” Rep. Mike Quigley, the sole Democrat who voted against the stopgap funding bill because it lacked Ukraine aid, told CNN. “I don’t see how the dynamics change in 45 days.”
A deal made? On Sunday, President Joe Biden called on lawmakers to act quickly to provide more aid. “We cannot under any circumstances allow America’s support for Ukraine to be interrupted,” Biden said. “The vast majority of both parties — Democrats and Republicans, Senate and House — support helping Ukraine and the brutal aggression that is being thrust upon them by Russia. Stop playing games, get this done.’’
Asked if he trusted Speaker Kevin McCarthy to include the Ukraine aid when the “next deal comes around,” Biden told reports, “We just made one about Ukraine. So, we’ll find out.”
The remark is being seen by some as evidence of an agreement between Biden and McCarthy to include aid for Ukraine when lawmakers attempt to settle on a full-year funding package in November, when the current stopgap bill runs out. But White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre declined to clarify the remarks on Monday.
Democratic leaders in the House said Monday they expect to vote on a Ukraine aid package soon, though they did not refer to any agreement to do so. “When the House returns, we expect Speaker McCarthy to advance a bill to the House Floor for an up-or-down vote that supports Ukraine, consistent with his commitment to making sure that Vladimir Putin, Russia and authoritarianism are defeated,” they said in a statement. “We must stand with the Ukrainian people until victory is won.”
McCarthy denied that there is an agreement. “I don’t think the president implied that at all,” he said. “I believe Ukraine is very important. I have always supported arming Ukraine – that’s not sending money to Ukraine, that’s arming Ukraine [with] the weaponry to defend.” McCarthy then reiterated his argument that border security is at least as important as aid to a foreign country. “I think it’s very important with the number of Americans who are dying that we get the border done,” he said.
Despite the denials, McCarthy’s chief antagonist, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Floria, used Biden’s comments to hammer away at his nemesis, whom he has threatened to remove from office via a motion to vacate. “So Mr. Speaker, just tell us, just tell us. What was in the secret Ukraine side deal? What commitments were made to President Biden to continue the spending of President Biden in exchange for doing things for President Biden?” Gaetz said on the floor of the House. “It is becoming increasingly clear who the Speaker of the House already works for, and it’s not the Republican conference.”
Gaetz said the issue could influence how he proceeds on his threat. “There may be other votes coming today or later this week that could be implicated by the answers to these questions,” he said. “Members of the Republican party might vote differently on a motion to vacate if they heard what the speaker had to share with us about his secret side deal with Joe Biden on Ukraine. I’ll be listening. Stay tuned.”