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If Republicans win the House in the midterm elections, their pledge is to take a hard look at the money the US is spending to help foot the bill – to the tune of billions in security aid – for Ukraine’s defense against Russia’s invasion.
Kevin McCarthy, who would likely be Speaker of the House in January if Republicans win in November, still supports US aid. But if Republicans win the House, he said there will be no more “blank check.”
President Joe Biden said McCarthy’s comments show today’s Republicans “have no sense of American foreign policy.”
“These guys don’t get it. It’s a lot bigger than Ukraine – it’s Eastern Europe. It’s NATO. It’s real, serious, serious consequential outcomes,” Biden said Thursday at a fundraiser in Philadelphia for Pennsylvania Senate candidate John Fetterman.
McCarthy expressed surprise Wednesday that his questioning of Ukraine aid caused a stir.
“Wouldn’t you want a check and balance in Congress? Wouldn’t you want this hardworking taxpayers’ money, someone overseeing it?” he said on CNBC.
An emerging GOP divide
It’s wrong to paint Republicans with one brush on this issue. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has expressed consistent support for Ukraine funding and put out a statement Friday vowing that a Senate GOP majority would continue to aid Ukraine in its war against Russia.
But McCarthy’s suggestion that a House Republican majority could target Ukraine funding may be part of a larger shift on the war. And the split between McConnell and McCarthy over the issue could be a point of contention if the GOP wins control of the House.
McCarthy has also said cutting spending in general will be Republicans’ top priority if they win control of the House.
America first vs. standing up to Russia
Speaking on Fox on Thursday, the pundit Laura Ingraham mocked former Vice President Mike Pence for referring to the US as the “arsenal of democracy” and suggested the US military is too depleted to be helping out other countries.
She had a sympathetic guest in Pence’s fellow Indianan, Rep. Jim Banks, who said the US should not be depleting its own cache of weapons to help a country in Europe. Keeping the weapons, he said, rather than putting them on the battlefield, would help the US stay stronger.
“That’s the reality of this moment we’re in today. We can’t put America first by giving blank checks to those around the world to solve their problems,” Banks said, echoing McCarthy’s language.
The ground is shifting
Lawmakers will have another chance to vote on Ukraine funding, likely this year as part of a larger government funding bill.
The last time the House voted directly on aid to Ukraine, the vote was strongly in favor – 368-57. The no votes were all Republicans.
But you can feel the ground shifting as a new wave of Republicans hopes to sweep into Washington.
Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama lost a Republican nomination to run for Senate in his state and said he felt attacked for voting to support Ukraine aid by his opponent Katie Britt and by former Trump adviser Steve Bannon. Bannon, it should be noted, has inspired many of former President Donald Trump’s policy positions and has been consistently opposed to the US funding for Ukraine.
“I stand by my vote & am proud of it,” Brooks said on Twitter. “Putin must be stopped. At home, America must hold political opportunists accountable.”
How much has the US given?
The US has committed more than any other country to Ukraine, according to a database of military, financial and humanitarian aid maintained by the Kiel Institute for the World Economy. As a percentage of GDP, the US ranks sixth.
It has given a total of $18 billion in military aid to Ukraine since January 2021, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement last week, while announcing an additional $725 million in aid.
Where does the money go?
From CNN’s report on the most recent $725 million authorized by the Biden administration:
The assistance includes High-speed Anti-Radiation Missiles (HARMs), anti-tank weapons and small arms as well ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) and small arms, according to a press release from the Department of Defense. The aid package also provides medical supplies, more than 200 high mobility vehicles, and thousands of artillery rounds and rounds of Remote Anti-Armor Mine (RAAM) systems.
Republicans aren’t the only ones reevaluating the cost of aid to Ukraine
Elon Musk, the billionaire who has provided critical Starlink internet service to Ukrainian forces, tried to get the Pentagon to start footing the bill for that service before backing off earlier this week.
Musk has expressed support for Ukraine, but drew criticism when he suggested a peace plan in line with Russia’s interests in a recent tweet. Read more on Starlink from CNN’s Alex Marquardt, who first reported Musk was asking the Pentagon to foot the bill.
Even if Musk won’t be brokering a peace plan and will be continuing to provide internet service to Ukrainians, his recent actions could be another signal of the beginnings of fatigue in what has been mostly unified global support. Italy’s new governing coalition is expected to include former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who has had a friendly relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
None of that means there will be less support from the US or the world for Ukraine, but it certainly means that powerful people – and people like McCarthy who may soon have a lot more power – are taking a harder look at how much is being spent.