WASHINGTON — If Republicans win the House, where does that leave Ukraine?
It’s a question that is top of mind in Washington as the GOP draws closer to winning the majority in the US House. Some fear the end of Democratic control in Congress — and the empowerment of “America First” conservatives — could ultimately result in the curtailment of American assistance as Ukraine battles Russia’s invasion.
Recent comments from Kevin McCarthy, who is in line for speaker if Republicans win the House, exacerbated those fears. He warned that Republicans wouldn’t support writing a “blank check” for Ukraine if they captured the majority.
But the hard-line rhetoric isn’t the end of the story. While Republican control of the House is likely to make sending tranches of military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine more difficult, support for the country runs deep in both parties.
Here is a look at the factors at play:
Since the Russian invasion began in February, Congress has approved tens of billions in emergency security and humanitarian assistance for Ukraine. The Biden administration has also shipped billions worth of weapons and equipment from military inventories.
In September, lawmakers approved about $12.3 billion in Ukraine-related aid as part of a bill that finances the federal government through Dec. 16. The money included assistance for the Ukrainian military as well as money to help the country’s government provide basic services to its citizens.
That comes on top of more than $50 billion provided in two previous bills.
All along, financial support for Ukraine has garnered strong bipartisan support. In the Senate, GOP leader Mitch McConnell and Richard Shelby, the lead Republican on the powerful Appropriations Committee, were early and consistent voices in favor of Ukraine aid.
In recent days, other Republicans including Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Rick Scott of Florida have insisted in interviews that their party’s support for the Ukrainians is resolute.
“I think we have to continue to do everything we can to support Ukraine, who wants to defend their freedom and stop Russia from continuing to expand,” Scott said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio and Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware also made a bipartisan show of support by visiting Ukraine just days before the election.
“I am confident that bipartisan robust American support for the fight of the Ukrainian people will continue in Congress,” Coons said. “The United States has long been a nation that fights for freedom, and this is the most important fight for freedom in the world today.”
The picture is similar in the House, where Ukrainian aid enjoys majority support. Even a letter published last month by the liberal flank of the party, asking the Biden administration to pursue diplomatic talks with Russia over the war, was quickly retracted after an outpouring of criticism from both parties.
President Joe Biden also attempted to ease concerns in a post-election briefing Wednesday, expressing hope that he would be able to continue his “bipartisan approach” to supporting Ukraine. He said he intends to invite congressional leaders from both parties to the White House later this month for a discussion about how to “advance the economic and national security priorities of the United States.”
Yet support for Ukraine is far from universal in the Republican Party.
Some lawmakers on the right, particularly those aligned with Donald Trump’s “America First” philosophy of foreign policy, say the United States cannot afford to give billions to Ukraine at a time of record-high inflation at home.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a member of the ultra-conservative Freedom Caucus, told a rally of Trump supporters in Iowa last week that, “under Republicans, not another penny will go to Ukraine.” In Ohio, Republican JD Vance, who just won the state’s Senate race, campaigned on ending financial support for the country, saying Congress has “got to stop the money spigot to Ukraine eventually.”
McCarthy seemed to be giving a nod to the Ukraine skeptics with his comments before the election.
“I think people are gonna be sitting in a recession and they’re not going to write a blank check to Ukraine,” McCarthy said in the pre-election interview. “They just won’t do it. … It’s not a free blank check.”
McCarthy later walked back those comments, telling CNN that he’s very supportive of Ukraine but thinks there should be “accountability going forward.”
Biden stressed that his administration has not granted every request from the Ukrainians, including their demand for a no-fly zone that would risk pulling America into the war.
“We’ve not given Ukraine a blank check,” Biden said. “There’s a lot of things that Ukraine wants we didn’t — we didn’t do.”
Despite the escalating opposition from the right, there is little risk of Congress ending America’s financial and military support for Ukraine anytime soon.
Majorities in the House and Senate back the alliance with Ukraine, saying the cost is worth paying to defend a democratic ally and resist Russian expansion.
And most Americans who voted in the midterms were firmly behind the military and financial support for Ukraine, according to AP VoteCast, a nationwide survey of more than 94,000 voters. About 4 in 10 said it was about right and 3 in 10 said it should be more active, while only about 3 in 10 wanted the US to provide less to Ukraine.
Yet it’s clear that a Republican takeover of the House would make passing additional aid for Ukraine harder. McCarthy is likely to be under intense pressure from the right to take a hard line with the Biden administration, making it more difficult for him to work with Democrats.
With that reality in mind, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are eyeing the lame-duck session after the election as an opportunity to lock in billions of dollars in additional military assistance for Ukraine. That aid could be passed in an end-of-year government funding bill and ensure American support for months to come.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian officials are monitoring the midterm election results closely. One official on Wednesday acknowledged having stayed awake the night before, hitting refresh again and again on his phone to track the results.
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But the country’s defense minister, Oleksiy Reznikov, said Wednesday that he did not anticipate American support would erode.
“I have repeatedly met with representatives of the Senate and Congress, and each time the delegations were bipartisan,” Resnikov said at a news conference. “I clearly understand that the support of the United States will remain bipartisan and bicameral, too.”
Yulia Svyrydenko, Ukraine’s trade and economic development minister, said Thursday that regardless of US support, the country is intensifying efforts to run leaner on spending, even as Ukrainians fight for what they see as an “existential war.”
Svyrydenko said that while there had been no pressure from American officials for Ukraine to cut its need for foreign help, Ukrainian leaders know they have to do more to stabilize the economy itself even as they battle Russian forces.
Ukraine’s emphasis at the war’s outset had been rapidly marshaling military aid from its allies, “but we understand that one day we should rely very well on ourselves again,” she said.
Associated Press writer Ellen Knickmeyer contributed to this report.