No one on Capitol Hill knows exactly when sending aid to Ukraine became such a political issue.
It didn’t really start as one.
In May 2022, three months after Russia began its brutal invasion, solid bipartisan majorities in Congress voted to approve a $40 billion aid package to Ukraine. Many Republicans who went on to adamantly oppose sending weapons to Ukraine spent the start of the war positively gushing about the heroism of President Volodymyr Zelensky and his Ukrainian citizens.
Now, 15 months and $113 billion in congressionally approved aid later, a growing MAGA faction is expressing skepticism—outright hostility, really—over continued support for Ukraine, even as the besieged country demonstrably weakens the military of one of the United States’ most hostile adversaries.
Over the course of more than 30 interviews with members of Congress, The Daily Beast set out to trace exactly how and why providing aid to Ukraine became such a controversial endeavor among Republicans.
To Democrats, the $24 billion package in front of Congress right now is the best money Washington could spend on national defense.
Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), the ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, said it is “enormously important” to stop Russia; failing to do so would be a “green light” to a number of countries—namely Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea—that they can “tear up the global order by force.”
He was adamant that the U.S. weapons already sent to Ukraine have been decisive in halting Russia’s advance.
Democrats note that only a few GOP lawmakers raise questions about an annual $826 billion Pentagon budget, while a growing number of Republicans are repulsed at the idea of sending another dime to Ukraine.
Rep. Jake Auchincloss (D-MA) succinctly encapsulated what the U.S. has gotten out of its investment in Ukraine.
“For a small fraction of our annual defense appropriations—for less than Americans spend on soft drinks every year—we have cratered half of Russia’s conventional military capacity, doubled NATO’s border, got our biggest allies to increase their domestic defense spending, strengthened our most important multilateral alliance, sent a message to Xi Jinping that we stand with freedom and democracy the world over,” he said.
“It’s been an unparalleled foreign policy triumph,” Auchincloss added. “But it is incomplete, and we need to see it through.”
It’s not just Democrats making these points. If you ask Republicans, you’ll find plenty who are just as adamant that the U.S. has gotten a miraculous bargain in Ukraine and that it would be foolish to cut support now.
When The Daily Beast asked Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) about that “pennies on the dollar” argument, he said that was exactly right.
“I make the same case to those who are on the fence about aid to Ukraine,” Lamborn said. “It is destroying the military of a country that’s been a huge troublemaker.”
The reliably hawkish Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) argues that, militarily, it’s obviously in the U.S. interest to support Ukraine. But he also told The Daily Beast that, financially, it makes sense too.
“What we’ve got to do is focus on the fact that if Putin wins, it costs more,” Graham said. “Nobody is dying. This is a good investment. And if you thought Afghanistan withdrawal was bad, Ukraine is going to be worse.”
According to Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO), his party’s opposition to Ukraine aid is best summed up this way: “It’s political, it’s not rational.”
To the experts who understand the military assistance and its practical effect on the war, the opposition truly isn’t rational. One sovereign nation—widely recognized as an enemy to the U.S.—invaded another sovereign nation. While Russia thought it would quickly sack Ukraine’s capital and seize its government and much of its land, Ukraine has stood strong for nearly a year and a half.
The military aid that the U.S. and other countries sent to Ukraine has been critical in fending off Russia’s advance over that time, even though the Pentagon is only sending weapons, tanks, and other hard assets—not troops.
An August poll from CNN, however, revealed that a majority of Americans—55 percent—oppose more aid to Ukraine. And just as in Congress, there’s a strong partisan divide on the issue: 62 percent of Democrats nationally support more funding for Ukraine, while 71 percent of Republicans are against it.
The issue, many Republicans in Congress agree, shouldn’t be partisan. But these Republicans are also keenly aware of the reality—that it is.
Conservatives are currently leveraging their willingness to shut down the government to try to get spending cuts. A chief sticking point in the negotiations is the $24 billion request from President Joe Biden for Ukraine aid—a military weapons transfer that is vital to fending off Russia and is supported by members of both parties.
The debate is unfolding at a pivotal point in the war. U.S. funding from the last aid package, passed in December 2022, runs out soon, just as Ukraine attempts to regain lost territory in its first major counteroffensive of the conflict.
“The failure to support Ukraine at this critical moment would be potentially tragic,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) told The Daily Beast.
There are Republican lawmakers who express legitimate concerns about the level of U.S. support for Ukraine, rooted in questions about the oversight of aid dollars, the geopolitical strategic trade-offs Washington may be making, and the dangerous potential for the conflict to escalate.
But far more are expressing arguments that are willfully ignorant but carry growing political weight.
The story of how that happened is a case study in the workings of a congressional GOP loyal to Donald Trump, one in which the former president and a small handful of right-wing figures wield immense power to set the agenda of the party base, which in turn commands immense power to shape the actions of lawmakers eager to use uncompromising tactics to achieve their goals.
On the right, the politics of supporting Ukraine have become so bad that, even when a Republican supported sending more weapons to fend off Russia, many were careful to not sound too enthusiastic about it.
‘Tucker Carlson got this started’
When The Daily Beast initially approached conservative Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-GA) about Ukraine aid, he emphasized the need for oversight—a common talking point among Republicans—and said he also wanted to make sure that it wasn’t just the U.S. bearing the costs (another common GOP refrain).
But Loudermilk also noted that he served in the Air Force during the Cold War—“I know how dangerous Putin is”—and once he got going on the subject, he suggested this really wasn’t a tough call for him.
“I don’t like us getting caught up on—” Loudermilk said, seemingly catching himself before he said something that would get him in trouble. “The amount of money this really is, someone put it as a ’rounding error.’”
Loudermilk said he has a lot of “very vocal” constituents questioning why the U.S. is handing out aid to Ukraine. But he also said he had just as many voters saying we should support the country.
“It’s a real mixed bag,” Loudermilk said.
If you ask lawmakers why it became such a mixed bag, one name comes up often.
“You want me to say it on the record? I’ll be glad to,” Buck told The Daily Beast. “You and I both know that Tucker Carlson made this an issue.”
The popular far-right commentator, who now hosts his own show on the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, has been a consistent critic of spending more money in Ukraine. When Carlson was yanked off the Fox News airwaves at the end of April, The Washington Post declared it, “One of the best things that could have happened to waning U.S. support for Ukraine.”
“Carlson was maybe the most prominent and influential critic of U.S. aid,” WaPo staff writer Aaron Blake wrote, noting that Carlson said he was rooting for Russia, openly wondered why he would hate Putin, and falsely claimed “American soldiers are fighting Russian soldiers.”
Buck said he didn’t question Carlson’s reasons for opposing Ukraine aid. “I think he genuinely felt that this was, you know, there were problems with our relationship with Ukraine,” Buck said.
But the congressman also noted that, even if Ukraine is corrupt, the United States has good relationships with plenty of corrupt countries.
“So Tucker Carlson got this started and a lot of activists have picked up on it, and a lot of members now are responding to the activist fervor,” Buck said.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) also thinks Carlson was a big part of public opinion turning against Ukraine aid. But he also had another name on his mind.
“As soon as Tucker Carlson said it, and Donald Trump parroted it, then the Trump-like individuals jumped on board,” Romney said.
As Romney pointed out, Trump has been repeating and amplifying many of the same arguments and falsehoods as Carlson. In fact, from the very start of the U.S. aid to Ukraine, Trump has expressed skepticism.
“The Democrats are sending another $40 billion to Ukraine, yet America’s parents are struggling to even feed their children,” Trump said in a May 2022 statement. (As president, Trump sent Ukraine military aid after trying to extract political favors from Zelensky—and he repeatedly advocated for cutting the food stamp program by 30 percent.)
Still, Trump has characteristically complained about how much aid the U.S. has supplied to Ukraine compared to other countries.
“The good old USA ’suckers’ are paying a VAST majority of the NATO bill, & outside money, going to Ukraine. VERY UNFAIR!” Trump wrote on Truth Social in January.
That argument is another common one you hear from Republicans—that the United States is shouldering too much of the burden.
It’s true that the U.S. has provided more to Ukraine than any individual country, according to an analysis by the Council on Foreign Relations, but the European Union has outspent America. And as a share of Gross Domestic Product, the U.S. ranks 16th among countries in Ukraine aid, according to CFR.
Many supporters of Ukraine aid also note that European nations are years away from providing the kind of military aid the U.S. can offer now.
But that hasn’t stopped Trump and his allies from seizing on the basest instincts of GOP voters to argue that Biden and his administration are cutting bad deals. And Republicans told The Daily Beast that a big part of the overall opposition to Ukraine aid is that it’s become a proxy vote on Biden’s foreign policy.
“It’s sort of seen as Biden’s war,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) said, calling that dynamic “unfortunate.”
For some Democrats, that is the defining dynamic in the House. “For a lot of these House Republicans, they view everything through a shirts-and-skins prism,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT). “Their worldview is really simply, if Joe Biden’s for it, it must be bad for America.”
Other Democrats see the GOP opposition less as a consequence of Biden and more as a consequence of Trump.
Smith, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, said there is “one reason” for the GOP reluctance to help Ukraine.
“If Trump came out tomorrow and said Ukraine deserves our support, you’d have 100 percent support from Republicans,” Smith claimed.
His colleague on the Armed Services Committee, Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA), said even for the Republicans who are trying to break away from Trump, the former president has a huge impact on his GOP colleagues.
“These folks are either Trumpians, or scared to death of Trump,” Garamendi said.
Many of Trump and Carlson’s arguments have filtered through their millions of their supporters and made their way back to members of Congress, shifting not just the politics but the very facts upon which aid to Ukraine is debated.
“You go home, and some of your favorite activists live on a diet of fake stories about Russia, fake stories about Ukraine, and scream at you,” conservative Rep. David Schweikert (R-AZ) told The Daily Beast.
Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) noted that many of his constituents were “expressing a lot of concern and dissatisfaction.”
He said part of the problem is that the debate over Ukraine has been framed for voters as a choice between spending money on, for example, border security at home, and spending that money in a country 5,000 miles away.
“And so they have a tendency to create binary choices out of nuanced issues,” Cramer said.
The silent majority?
When it comes to Ukraine, the congressional GOP splits into three major factions.
The first, those who have consistently supported U.S. aid, is probably the most influential on paper. Its members include Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), as well as the chairmen of the House and Senate committees focusing on the military and foreign relations.
Members of this faction quietly recognize that GOP voters are turning against aid, but they’re desperate to not paint the entire party with the “America First” brush. Asked whether the pro-Ukraine coalition is faltering, Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-SD) responded forcefully: “I mean, what evidence do we have of that?”
Referencing recent amendment votes in which two-thirds of the House GOP backed Ukraine aid, Johnson argued “this narrative of, you know, shifting sands on support is, I think, over-reporting some of the louder voices.”
The second group, those “louder voices” who have consistently opposed U.S. aid, is perhaps the smallest but most aggressive. It includes far-right populists like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and isolationists like Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), both of whom have threatened to shut down the government if an upcoming annual funding package includes any money for Ukraine.
But the third faction—the Republicans whom Johnson and other pro-Ukraine Republicans would like to ignore—is the most revealing in order to understand the party’s trajectory: those who supported Ukraine aid at first, but have since turned against it or simply gone totally silent.
Take, for example, Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA), a pro-Trump member in a deeply conservative district who serves as a top lieutenant in House leadership.
At the beginning of the war, Reschenthaler was zealous and unequivocal in his support of Ukraine, arguing that the country “deserves every weapon it needs to drive back the Russian onslaught.”
In a March 2022 interview on Newsmax, he advocated for Ukraine to join NATO, which would require the U.S. and all NATO signatories to send troops in Ukraine’s defense in any conflict.
Reschenthaler went on to express worry that the West would “try to sell Ukraine down the river” in a protracted conflict and argued that the only acceptable outcome to the war would be Russia restoring all of Ukraine’s territory, including Crimean portions seized in 2014, and allowing Ukraine to join NATO.
In the same interview, Reschenthaler compared Zelensky favorably to Biden, who he claimed was failing to sufficiently counter Russia.
“If Zelensky is a modern-day Churchill, Biden is a modern-day Chamberlain,” said the congressman, invoking the British prime ministers who, respectively, fought and appeased Nazi Germany.
After the 2022 summer, as backlash to Ukraine spread on the right, Reschenthaler grew increasingly silent on an issue he had framed in stark moral terms, ceasing to talk much or put out any official statements on Ukraine.
A year later, Reschenthaler fulfilled his own prediction about how Ukraine’s Western allies would respond to a protracted war. In July, he voted with one-third of the House GOP in favor of two amendments to the annual defense authorization bill: one from Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) to prohibit any more U.S. aid to Ukraine, and one from Greene to claw back $300 million in committed U.S. aid.
Reschenthaler was one of 13 Republicans to vote for the initial 2022 aid package who voted for the Gaetz amendment and one of 20 Republicans in the same category with the Greene amendment. His office did not respond to questions about why he changed his position on supporting Ukraine.
‘Sacks of gold’
Talk to a GOP lawmaker who is skeptical or opposed to Ukraine aid, and you’ll typically get a response that raises concerns about how the money has been spent and if the U.S. can afford to spend on Ukraine at all.
Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL) said he didn’t think the United States should send “disaster relief” to other countries “before we solve the problems here in our country.”
“We’ve given them $120 billion and gotten no oversight or information on where that money’s gone, if it’s been used,” Steube said.
“We’re broke,” said Rep. Tim Burchett (R-TN). “We just can’t keep up. We can’t afford it anymore, and we need to just let them fight their own war.”
Other GOP lawmakers have gone much further, engaging less with the actual facts and more with the false narratives. Many have created their own reality with respect to sending aid to Ukraine, wherein there’s hardly any accountability—where there’s rampant fraud, questionable outcomes, and the money goes from the U.S. taxpayer’s wallet to a Ukrainian bank account.
Even when you present some of these GOP members with the fact that aid to Ukraine isn’t really happening in the famous form of pallets of cash, they take that as a matter of opinion.
“Don’t think they’re not sending over pallets of money,” Rep. Clay Higgins (R-LA) argued to The Daily Beast. “Don’t think there’s not some sacks of gold involved in this, I’m telling you!”
The truth is, when it comes to military aid, there’s not much actual money changing hands. The vast majority of U.S. aid to Ukraine has taken the form of material weapons, which are closely tracked.
“We’re not writing a literal check to Ukraine,” said Alexandra Chinchilla, an Eastern Europe expert at the Bush School of Public Service and Government at Texas A&M University. “For a lot of the aid we’re providing, since it’s stuff and not money, that has a built-in way of ensuring accountability.”
“For corruption to happen,” she said, “you’d have to believe that Ukraine doesn’t care about supplying its soldiers on the front lines.”
Earlier this year, some members of the House Armed Services Committee traveled to Poland and Romania to observe these weapons transfers firsthand.
“We came away with a clear understanding of the various safeguards… to ensure each article is accounted for and tracked to the front line of the war,” House Armed Services chairman Mike Rogers (R-AL) said at the time.
Garamendi, who was part of the trip, recounted how the U.S. military and auditors oversaw the operation, and how quickly the supplies went from American cargo planes to Ukrainian trucks en route to the front lines.
“There’s a high level of confidence that it’s going to where it needs to go,” Garamendi said.
The corruption ‘death knell’
Given the large amount of taxpayer money flowing to Ukraine, the chaos of war, and Ukraine’s past struggles with corruption, lawmakers and experts agree that strong oversight of aid dollars should be a top concern.
Despite the claims of Republicans like Steube, however, lawmakers have plenty of access to information about how Ukraine is using the aid Congress approved—if they are interested to hear it.
The inspectors general for the Pentagon, the State Department, and the U.S. Agency for International Development have been frequent presences on Capitol Hill, providing updates for members. In mid-September, for instance, several IGs—the independent in-house watchdogs who track waste, fraud, and abuse of funds—provided a closed-door briefing on aid to senators.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) indicated to The Daily Beast that he left the briefing feeling more confident that U.S. aid was being used wisely. “Ukrainians understand even a whiff of corruption would be the death knell,” he said, adding that scrutiny of their systems is “having a very beneficial impact on the Ukrainians making anti-corruption a priority.”
“I’m not for a blank check or whatever it takes… but I do support giving them what they need to defend themselves,” Cornyn continued.
Still, even Republicans who are supportive of Ukraine say they need to see more accountability in aid before they approve more. Some point to a failed effort by the Senate’s Ukraine critics to establish a new special inspector general as a prerequisite.
Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA), a conservative member of House leadership, said he believes “Ukraine has to prevail.” But when asked about his stance on providing more aid, he said “we need accountability.”
“That’s what our constituents want to hear,” he continued.
Drop in the bucket?
Asking Republicans to square their support for the Pentagon budget (which is more than what the next 10 highest-spending countries put toward defense combined) with their opposition to the current Ukrainian aid package (which is about 3 percent of the total Pentagon budget) yields some interesting answers.
“I’m just not going to comment,” said Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC), who proudly noted he had voted against all Ukraine aid but supported the U.S. defense budget, with the exception of the “woke programs.”
“I disagree with the entire premise of what you posited,” Higgins said. “Our military is our military.”
More often, though, Republicans took the question as an opportunity to restate why they were opposed to Ukraine in the first place.
“I just said we need some accountability,” Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL) told The Daily Beast. “We spent money with no accountability. I don’t want to do that anymore.”
Cramer, the North Dakota senator, said he often makes the case on talk radio that U.S. money is being well spent in Ukraine. But the reality is that many Republican lawmakers are opting to not use the information accessible to them to make that case. Instead, they’re leveraging constituents’ concerns as a way to avoid a potentially difficult stand on an issue.
To some lawmakers and experts, it’s easy to see that U.S. aid is having the intended effect: Ukraine’s outmatched and outnumbered military has fought the world’s second-most powerful army to a stalemate.
Some Republicans look at the situation and see not proof that the U.S. aid effort has worked, but proof that Russia is weaker than anticipated—something, they point out, that U.S. intelligence missed in its assessments that Kyiv would fall quickly.
“Russia is basically a Third World country,” according to Burchett, the Tennessee Republican. “So I don’t think—they’re not the powerhouse they once were and they’re never gonna be.”
This is not an argument that convinces many national security experts.
Alexander Noyes, an analyst at the RAND Corporation think tank, recently wrote that the U.S. aid effort to Ukraine has been a rare success for Washington. He told The Daily Beast there are “legitimate concerns” about misuse of U.S. aid, saying “we should do everything we can to mitigate those risks.”
“But from what I see currently, the evidence base doesn’t suggest there’s a ton of that going on,” Noyes continued. “The battlefield success is a compelling story in that line of argument.”
But many Republicans just can’t be convinced the aid is working.
“I guess my question would be where’s the evidence that Russia’s army is being dismantled,” said Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ), one of the Freedom Caucus leaders who opposed aid to Ukraine from the beginning.
Biggs contended that the U.S. was simply feeding Ukraine our weapons inventory—”not our surplus, but our inventory”—and suggested there is no end in sight to the war.
“What’s our purpose?” Biggs asked. “What are we there for? And what’s the exit strategy and when do you declare victory and come home?”
To supporters of Ukraine aid, those are not hard questions.
“Look,” Smith told The Daily Beast, “the president has been clear from the very start that our policy has two goals: one, maintain a sovereign, democratic Ukraine; and two, don’t get into a war with Russia.”
“In all my time on the Hill,” Smith continued, “I’ve never seen a policy objective more clearly articulated.”
Smith also disputed the talking point articulated by Biggs and other Republicans that this aid is dangerously drawing down the U.S. weapons inventory. “In some cases, these are weapons that we weren’t going to use,” Smith said, though he was careful to note that these transfers had costs.
Smith and other Democrats pointed to specific ways in which the military aid has helped Ukraine. But again, it was fellow Republicans most frustrated with the talking points from their GOP colleagues.
When The Daily Beast asked Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) about arguments like the one Biggs made, he was incredulous.
“Did they think Russia was going to collapse in a month?” he quipped.
“Come on, this is one of the world’s superpowers that Ukraine’s trying to take on,” he said. “Everybody should take a lesson from the history of World War II. We’re seeing it play out right now. And we’ve got to do the right thing, early, and not wait until it becomes a bigger problem.”
While it’d be convenient for the supporters of Ukraine aid if the opponents were only putting forth bad-faith arguments, there are some legitimate questions and criticisms.
For starters, what does a long-term U.S. commitment to supporting Ukraine look like? Does continued help risk escalation? And what does commitment toward Ukraine mean for the U.S. ability to counter China?
To Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), supporters of Ukraine shifted their goals from helping the country’s defense to an “open-ended commitment” closer to an “Afghanistan-style, Iraq-style nation building project.”
The Missouri senator, who is closely aligned with the Trump wing of the party, argued the Ukraine response was symptomatic of an “imperialist hangover” in Washington and reflective of a “colonizing mentality” to make Ukraine a “vassal state” of the U.S.
However, Hawley mostly emphasized his belief that U.S. support for Ukraine necessarily diminishes its ability to respond to China—the opposite of what many Republican and Democratic lawmakers say.
“What you cannot say is, ’Oh, by fighting in Ukraine, we’re really deterring China.’ Nope, we’re not. We’re setting back our deterrence in China. Big time,” Hawley said. “We’re not posturing there. We’re not getting the military armaments we need there. We’re not hardening Taiwan. So now, I guess if we spent $2 trillion on defense, maybe we could do both at the same time. We’re not going to do that, and we shouldn’t.”
Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI), who supports Ukraine aid, told The Daily Beast it is important to “leverage” the military assistance to make sure it’s getting to its intended destination and to “get the Europeans to step up and do more.”
Gallagher said there are “valid concerns about the end state of Ukraine,” and he didn’t think the Biden administration had actually laid out what that looks like.
“For the Biden administration to blame Republicans when they just got behind a weak ass G20 statement, which says nothing about getting Russians out of Ukrainian territory, that’s where I think a lot of the concern comes from,” he said.
Gallagher also said Congress needed to use the Ukrainian crisis—”for lack of a better term”—to rebuild the U.S. weapons stockpile and deter China from trying to seize Taiwan. Gallagher was concerned, like many Republicans, that helping Ukraine could come at the expense of defending Taiwan. But he also said that “what happens in Ukraine actually affects deterrence.”
That was a point many Democrats made in response to arguments like Hawley’s, though they also noted how a potential conflict in Taiwan would be completely different from a military and weapons standpoint and require different sets of resources.
“Xi is watching what happens in Ukraine. I can assure you his calculations on what happens in Taiwan are predicated on his observations in Ukraine,” said Auchincloss, who serves on the House’s select committee on China. “My clear message to these MAGA senators is, if you’re weak on Russia, you are weak on China.”
While U.S. support for Ukraine represents just a small part of the annual budget—and is dwarfed by the price tag of recent initiatives like COVID-19 relief or the 2008 bank bailouts—it still represents the largest foreign aid effort ever seen from Washington.
In the first two months of the war, Biden used his executive authority to commit nearly $4 billion in security assistance to Ukraine, largely in the form of “presidential drawdowns”—a tool the White House can use to send existing U.S. military equipment to allies in times of war.
The first major chunk of aid from Congress came in May 2022. Totaling $40 billion, the legislation provided $20 billion in pure military support, including transfers of U.S. military equipment, funds for training support, supplies, and weapons. But it also provided numerous other forms of relief, like $4.3 billion for the USAID to address humanitarian needs sparked by the war.
The infusion came at a critical moment in the war. Boosted by early help from the U.S. and other allies, Ukraine defied expectations, exposing a disorganized and confused Russian military.
“Ukraine supplies the will to fight,” said Chinchilla, the expert at Texas A&M University. “But once the aid started to flow, that’s what got them to be able to defend themselves for the long haul, and basically get Russia to the point where they are right now, where they can’t advance and Ukraine rolled back territorial gains Russia had made early in the invasion.”
Since May 2022, the biggest tranche of aid Congress approved for Ukraine—$45 billion—came in the annual spending bill that passed in December, with additional funds held up ever since.
According to the lawmakers most closely tracking this issue, the nine-month gap in aid is a big reason why the U.S. needs to act soon.
“This isn’t a problem of there not being enough money in the kitty in December; there’s not enough money today,” said Murphy, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who has visited Ukraine many times. “So, we are days or weeks away from not having the resources to be able to get Ukraine the ammunition it needs, and to continue to move anti-missile technology into Ukraine.”
Murphy said he gets a lot of questions from friends in Ukraine and other supporters of the country in Europe.
“How can there not be a level of anxiety when they see the deprioritization of Ukraine in the House?” Murphy asked. “In this information age, the troops on the front lines are aware of what’s happening in the U.S. Every soldier fighting for Ukraine knows they can only continue to fight if the U.S. sticks with them.”
‘Is he our president?’
In the Senate, McConnell—a sworn enemy of the Trump-Carlson wing of the party—has continued to advocate for robust Ukraine aid despite the right-wing wrath. But House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who is trying to survive the annual spending fight without the anti-Ukraine right taking his gavel, is not so impervious to the same pressures.
Over the last year, McCarthy has tried to have it both ways on Ukraine, finding moments to sympathize with the war-torn country—such as at a press conference in Israel when he sternly corrected a Russian reporter who suggested he opposed Ukraine aid—while also amplifying some of the empty concerns that many of his right-wing members express.
Ahead of Zelensky’s visit to Capitol Hill last week, McCarthy was asked by reporters if he would commit to supporting more aid to Ukraine. “Is Zelensky elected to Congress?” the speaker responded. “Is he our president? I don’t think I have to commit to anything.”
In truth, McCarthy seems somewhat agnostic on the issue—characteristically preferring to do whatever is in his best interests politically rather than whatever is in the U.S. interest practically.
Hours after McCarthy met with Zelensky, a procedural vote on the Pentagon budget failed for the second time in three days. Sure enough, McCarthy immediately began discussing the possibility of cutting the Ukraine aid in the defense package to get more votes. (He later reversed himself after realizing that stripping the aid likely wouldn’t help him in the short- or medium-term.)
For the Republicans who are supportive of sending weapons to Ukraine, McCarthy’s ambivalence has been another key reason why the anti-Ukraine wing of the party has gained such a foothold.
“Too many of our senior leadership got quiet,” said Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE). “Tucker Carlson doesn’t speak for all of us. Too many people just cow to that.”
‘Do they even support Ukraine?’
With House Republicans in open war with each other over spending proposals—Ukraine being just one of several sticking points—a government shutdown looks more likely by the minute, potentially delaying a final appropriations package for the upcoming year by weeks or months.
By the time Congress does approve one, it’s possible the amount allocated for Ukraine’s defense could be below the $24 billion request. As advocates of Ukraine aid see it, the real cost of failing to provide those funds would be incalculably greater than the dollar amount in question.
But the Republicans who oppose the aid don’t seem to care—at least, that’s what Democrats say of their counterparts.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) isn’t buying that the GOP opposition to Ukraine aid has anything to do with money.
“It’s not even about the spending, put the whole spending aside,” Ocasio-Cortez told The Daily Beast. “Do they even support Ukraine in their Ukrainian sovereignty, period?”
“Like, let’s say, we put zero dollars into this,” Ocasio-Cortez continued. “I don’t think that Republicans have even made clear that they don’t agree with Russia.”
That argument might sound like a stretch, but about an hour after Ocasio-Cortez argued that Republicans were on Putin’s side, The Daily Beast talked to Rep. Bob Good (R-VA).
Good was among the 57 House Republicans who have opposed aid to Ukraine since the very beginning. And he made many of the same familiar arguments other Republicans have pushed—that the U.S. is “bankrupt,” that the Biden administration has “terribly weakened our military,” and that we can’t be “borrowing from our kids and grandkids” to send money to Ukraine.
Asked what he would say to those arguing that, for just a small percentage of a defense budget that he supports, the U.S. is dismantling the Russian army and stopping Putin’s advance, Good questioned whether that was such a desirable outcome.
“There’s a debate as to whether or not that is in our direct national security interests,” he said.
When The Daily Beast asked to clarify whether he thought helping Ukraine was in the United States’ interest, Good was quite clear.
“I do question whether it’s in our direct national security interest,” he said.