Could the fight over the southern border kill American aid to Ukraine?

Republican demands for boosted border security have thrown a major wrench in a much-needed aid package to help Ukraine

Map of the United States and Mexico separated by a zipper
Any additional Ukraine funding is "dependent upon enactment of transformative change to our nation's border security laws," said Speaker Mike Johnson
(Image credit: Illustrated / Getty Images)

For nearly two years now, the United States has steadfastly backed Ukraine's effort to repel a Russian invasion that has left thousands dead, and countless more injured in what has become the biggest European military conflict since World War II. With tens of billions of dollars sent overseas to cover Ukrainian munitions and military training (to say nothing of billions more for broader humanitarian and economic assistance), it's safe to say that American aid has been a lynchpin factor in Ukraine's ability to not only withstand an attempted invasion, but to mount an offensive push back into Russia itself. 

At the same time, however, America's substantial financial contributions to Ukraine's war effort have become a domestic battlefront in Washington, where some conservative lawmakers have argued against further aid amid ongoing questions of spending priorities and the future of the conflict at large. Although opprobrium from right-wing circles over Ukraine funding has existed as a steady hum throughout the past two years of war, this week saw a new urgency to the question of if and how the U.S. should continue to support Ukraine. On Monday, White House Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young notified House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) that "without congressional action, by the end of the year we will run out of resources" to provide Ukraine with the military assistance it needs, warning that "this isn't a next year problem." 

Now, with funds dwindling and the clock running down, a growing chorus of congressional Republicans are refusing to consider President Joe Biden's request for a $100 billion supplemental national security package unless it's paired with significant tightening of immigration asylum laws, and increased border security — long a conservative priority, particularly following the administration of former President Donald Trump. 

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What the commentators said

Any additional Ukraine funding is "dependent upon enactment of transformative change to our nation's border security laws," Speaker Johnson said in a statement following Director Young's warning — an uphill demand, given that it's an "issue on which Congress has failed to take broad-ranging action for decades," The Washington Post noted. Even if negotiations in the Senate landed on some sort of immigration reform, "such an accord would face a steep climb in the House," The Hill agreed, adding that "patience is thin. Finger-pointing has begun and the stakes are high."

Complicating things further, Republican negotiators have reportedly dug in their heels on strict immigration constraints with an eye on the 2024 presidential election — and the likelihood that Trump will secure the party's nomination. Speaking with The Washington Post, "Democratic sources" familiar with the negotiations claimed "Republican demands began to shift" shortly after a New York Times report on Trump's plan for draconian immigration crackdowns in a second term in office. 

Despite Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer's (D-N.Y.)  claim that Republican demands for "extreme immigration measures" have placed negotiations "on ice for weeks," others in the Senate are more optimistic. Rejecting the characterization of a "breakdown," Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) told Politico that "we're still working, just not making progress fast enough." 

What next? 

With Washington preparing to break for the holidays, Schumer could advance a supplemental aid package bill without any immigration components and "dare Republicans to vote no," according to CNN. Multiple Senate Republicans told the network such a ploy would likely fail. At the same time, Senate Democrats have begun warning that a failure to secure funding for Ukraine would be, per Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), a "desperate situation" that's "going to hurt Ukraine. On the humanitarian side, it’s going to be very painful."

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) was even more despondent, telling Politico that he understands "the consequences of the tactic Republicans have decided to use. And it is Vladimir Putin marching into Europe."

In what is "perhaps the most uncertain moment for Ukraine since the first chaotic months of the war," according to The New York Times, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is scheduled to make a direct appeal via video to senators on Tuesday. The address, organized by the Biden administration, was made with the understanding that Zelenskyy himself is "the most effective advocate for his country when it comes to talking to Republicans," Politico reported. 

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