In what many Americans see as a good thing, House Speaker Kevin McCarty denied a request by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to address a joint session of Congress in Washington on Thursday. McCarthy’s official reasoning was that the House is busy working on more pressing issues — like spending bills and avoiding a government shutdown.
With the war in Ukraine still raging and an end seemingly not in sight, the number of Americans who are tired of spending money that we do not have on a war that we do not need, is growing and it shows. However, Zelensky has already made his pitch for more American money and logistical support, in meetings with members of Congress.
After meetings with both House members and senators, Zelenskyy did not take questions on what — if any — commitments he secured from Speaker Kevin McCarthy on aid for his defense against Russia, or other subjects. Inside Zelenskyy’s huddle with senators, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said the Ukrainian leader received two standing ovations from those gathered to hear his plea for the $24 billion in additional assistance requested by President Joe Biden’s administration.
“We said to him at the very beginning of this war — which was, ‘Be strong and be united.’ He said, ‘I ask you to do the same,’” Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) said after the meeting.
As the Ukrainian leader arrived, a group of 28 congressional Republicans released a letter reiterating that they oppose further aid to the country’s defense against Russian aggression. It’s a far cry for the raucous and warm reception Zelenskyy got during his joint session to Congress in December, before the GOP took power in the House.
With more and more Republicans seeing the situation for what it really is, America also needs to come to grips with that reality — something which Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) discussed Thursday after the meeting:
“His comment was, ‘It’s a totally frozen conflict,’” Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), an aid opponent who attended the meeting, told POLITICO. “And I think his other comment was ‘Everything depends on the United States.’ Sounds more and more sort of like Vietnam in the day to me, if I’m going to be honest. So what he said was basically a recipe for just shy of needing to land American troops.”
Some House and Senate Republicans have publicly stated their intentions to hold up spending bills if they included money for Ukraine. One of those members, Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky) flat-out said he would not allow an expedited bill with Ukarine funding in it to move forward in the Senate.
I will oppose any effort to hold the federal government hostage for Ukraine funding. I will not consent to expedited passage of any spending measure that provides any more US aid to Ukraine. https://t.co/lwmmOObO81
— Rand Paul (@RandPaul) September 21, 2023
“Today I’m putting congressional leadership & [Joe Biden] on notice that I will oppose any effort to hold the federal government hostage for Ukraine funding. I will not consent to expedited passage of any spending measure that provides any more US aid to Ukraine,” he said.
In an op-ed published on Wednesday, Paul said he had concerns over what approving more aid would do to the national debt and voiced skepticism about U.S. strategy and interests in Ukraine.
However, new developments might make holding up any spending bill to protest Ukraine funding a fool’s errand. According to Politico, the Pentagon may separate its Ukraine operational requirements to avoid a government shutdown. This would allow the Pentagon to continue with its operations, unhindered by any potential shutdown.
But if lawmakers fail to reach an agreement and government appropriations lapse, DOD has decided to continue activities supporting Ukraine, DOD spokesperson Chris Sherwood told POLITICO Thursday — just hours after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy met with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. Mark Milley and other senior leaders at the Pentagon. “Operation Atlantic Resolve is an excepted activity under a government lapse in appropriations,” Sherwood said, referring to the named operation for DOD’s activities in response to the Russian invasion. The move means that the U.S. military’s activities related to the war, such as training of Ukrainian soldiers on American tactics and equipment, as well as shipments of weapons to Kyiv, will continue despite any potential shutdown. As recently as Tuesday, Sherwood had said the shutdown could halt those activities.
By denying Zelensky’s request to address Congress, America would be saved from seeing another opportunity for Zelensky to fool Americans into continuing to support funding his war. Unfortunately, however, it would seem that the House still has enough support to authorize additional funding for Ukraine, regardless of the event of a government shutdown due to any spending bill getting held up.
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