IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

A new hope for Ukraine aid in Washington

Speaker Johnson said the U.S. must stop Russia's advances in Ukraine, and some GOP hard-liners who oppose additional aid are hinting at a path for Congress to vote on it.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., arrives to the U.S. Capitol on Oct. 25, 2023.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., arrives at the Capitol on Wednesday. Tom Williams / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

WASHINGTON — There’s a renewed hope for approving additional aid to Ukraine after House Republicans resolved their speaker paralysis, and as some hard-right lawmakers critical of new funding hint at a viable path to vote on it.

One month ago, Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., voted with 93 Republicans to cut off Ukraine aid. Now, as speaker, Johnson said he's asked White House staff to “bifurcate” aid to Israel and Ukraine. But he emphasized that the U.S. must stop Russia’s advances.

“We can’t allow Vladimir Putin to prevail in Ukraine because I don’t believe it would stop there,” Johnson said in an interview on Fox News the day after he was sworn in. “And it would probably encourage and empower China to perhaps make a move on Taiwan. We have these concerns. We’re not going to abandon them.”

Johnson added that he wants “accountability” over how the money is spent as lawmakers “have a stewardship responsibility over the precious treasure of the American people.”

His remarks, which have since circulated around Capitol Hill, provide fresh optimism among proponents of Ukraine aid who believed the cause was fizzling under the tenure of former Speaker Kevin McCarthy. McCarthy stripped out Ukraine funding from a late-September funding bill under pressure from conservative hard-liners who opposed the aid and had threatened to oust him if he gave in to Biden administration demands.

But notably, some of those Republicans now say they could accept holding separate votes on Ukraine money, which they oppose, and aid to Israel, which they favor.

“Well, they should definitely be separate questions,” Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., told NBC News. “We have a lot of members who want to vote for Ukraine funding. So that may be a vote that they’re able to bring to bear through regular order.”

Gaetz added that what he wants is single-subject bills: “Mike Johnson believes in that principle, so I think he is very unlikely to smoosh those things together in one vote.”

The demands from Republicans indicate that the Biden administration’s supplemental funding request pairing aid to Israel and Ukraine may come untied in the Republican-controlled House. But a standalone Ukraine aid bill has a strong chance of passing because Democrats in both chambers overwhelmingly support the idea and many Senate Republicans do, too.

Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., another anti-McCarthy rebel and opponent of Ukraine funding, said he prefers that a majority of the House GOP support additional aid in order for it to come to a vote.

“I suspect that it might pass because some Republicans and Democrats support it,” Good said. “I don’t think we ought to bring it to the floor unless it’s supported by a majority of Republicans. That’s why we have a majority Republican House. I would not vote for it. However, this is a town of negotiation and to some degree compromise.”

Good also suggested pairing Ukraine aid with border security money and policy changes to the asylum system.

Senators open to a separate path for Ukraine aid

In the Senate, where Democrats control 51 votes and need 60 to pass legislation, numerous Republicans favor separating Ukraine and Israel funding.

“I very much want them to be separate,” Sen. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo. “There’s a tremendous need and desire to move quickly on Israel. So I think that it’s important that we move forward with Israel — the sooner the better.” 

Lummis, who backs continued support of Ukraine, said there must be a way to pay for it. “It’s kind a red line for me on Ukraine,” she said in the Capitol on Thursday. “I don’t want the citizens of the United States to go through what they’re going through now, which is living paycheck to paycheck, in order to pay for the war in Ukraine. I want to help Ukraine desperately and I think it’s something I can get behind, but not if it’s not paid for.”

Lummis joined Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., and six other Republicans last week in demanding that Senate leadership separate funding to the two countries. Braun said on Thursday that the House should act first on the funding, and the Senate can follow suit. The upper chamber already began work on the national security supplemental, with pro-Ukraine aid Senators on both sides of the aisle vowing to prioritize the administration’s $60 billion aid request for Ukraine.

Democrats say they prefer that the full package come to a vote.

“I think there needs to be a powerful movement in the Senate, a vote overwhelmingly and bipartisan, so that there’ll be additional pressure on the House and the new speaker to bring this package to vote,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who recently visited Ukraine with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. “If it’s given a vote, I am very, very optimistic that it would pass overwhelmingly.”

A group of Senate Republicans huddled in Republican Whip John Thune’s, R-S.D., office on Thursday afternoon to discuss policy changes to pair with the administration’s $13.6 billion funding request for the U.S.-Mexico border.

The group, which includes top Senate Republican appropriator Susan Collins of Maine, as well as Sens. Graham, James Lankford of Oklahoma; Thom Tillis of North Carolina and John Cornyn of Texas, are considering an array of options on how best to address the border crisis, including making changes to the asylum-seeking process and reforming the parole process. There are also conversations about hiring and retaining border patrol agents.

Graham said he needs to “think about” whether separating Ukraine aid from the White House’s $14 billion Israel aid request would be a good idea.

“I don’t know … I’m hoping that he [Johnson] will work with us to find more transparency, more, you know, kind of a more defined mission,” he said. “But let me just say, if you pull the plug on Ukraine, and you think we’re safer, and that China will not be more aggressive, you’re making a huge mistake.”