Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was in Washington D.C. this week to make the case for more American aid in his country’s war against Russian invaders — but the reception was less supportive than he hoped. Politico reported that Republican opponents of aid came away from meetings with Zelenskyy “unmoved,” noting that Ukraine’s counteroffensive seems to have stalled. “Sounds more and more sort of like Vietnam in the day to me, if I’m going to be honest,” said Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.).
Zelenskyy “received a far quieter reception than the hero’s welcome he was given last year from Congress,” The Associated Press reported. The Ukrainian was welcomed to the White House with “more ceremony than world leaders normally receive” for his visit with President Biden, but “intensifying opposition” to Ukraine aid among Trumpist Republicans has threatened to derail continued American funding.
Perhaps that’s no surprise. CNN reported last month that 55 percent of Americans oppose continued support of Ukraine. (Like many issues these days, there’s a partisan split in the polling: Republicans want Zelenskyy cut off, while Democrats support the war effort.) Maybe that’s why, as Axios noted, Zelenskyy got a “cold shoulder from D.C. Republicans.” Indeed, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) met privately with the Ukrainian, but refused to let Zelenskyy speak to a joint session of Congress.
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What the commentators said
“There is no clear path to victory,” Sumantra Maitra argued at The American Conservative. The counteroffensive was “stillborn.” And the situation is unlikely to get better. “Ukraine lacks the manpower, training, and resources to regain its lost lands.” In the meantime, immigrants continue to cross America’s southern border at alarming rates. It’s time to end the aid to Europe and Ukraine, especially until the United States gets its own house in order: “Not a penny more.”
There are plenty of Republicans who do support Ukraine, however. “Kevin McCarthy made a huge mistake in dissing Ukraine’s Zelensky,” The New York Post editorialized. But it is imperative to defeat Russia’s “imperialist war of aggression.” If Putin’s invasion succeeds, Russia will move on to “bullying” its other Central European neighbors — and that might draw NATO and the United States troops into a bigger conflict. If that happens, “America and the West will pay a far higher price than we are paying now.”
It’s nonetheless clear that “Ukraine aid is hanging by a thread,” observed columnist Josh Rogin at The Washington Post. At least half of House Republicans could vote against more support the next time the issue hits the chamber floor. The United States could exercise more oversight over how its money is being spent, and the “call for more clarity on U.S. objectives in Ukraine is valid.” But it’s a false choice to suggest America should pick between helping Ukraine or solving its own problems — and puts Republicans in the position of “abandoning the Ukrainians at the worst possible moment.”
Zelenskyy didn’t come away from his Washington meetings completely empty-handed. President Biden announced a new aid package “worth hundreds of millions of dollars,” ABC News reported, reaffirming the White House support for Ukraine. The country’s people “are steeled for this struggle ahead,” Biden said. “And the United States is going to continue to stand with you."
Maybe. Or maybe not. The legislative path for a new round of Ukraine aid “looks much murkier than last time,” Roll Call reported. “There are a lot of political machinations right now, but I assure you we’re going to get it passed,” House Foreign Affairs Chairman Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican, said this week. But, Roll Call noted, he “didn’t say how.”
The debate comes on the eve of a likely government shutdown at the end of the month, with House Republicans unable to come to an agreement amongst themselves about how to fund the American government. CNN reported the Pentagon has exempted its Ukraine operations from any shutdown requirements. That’s good news for Zelenskyy. The question now is how long the good news will last.
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