Will Republicans in Congress abandon Ukraine?

How midterm elections could affect the war

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Would a Republican Congress continue America's support for Ukraine in its defense against Russia's invasion? Maybe not. War is expensive, after all.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) suggested last week that Republicans might take a tougher line on that support if they win back the chamber — as expected — in next month's midterm elections. "I think people are going to be sitting in a recession, and they're not going to write a blank check to Ukraine," he said in an interview with Punchbowl News. "Ukraine is important, but at the same time, it can't be the only thing they do, and it can't be a blank check." A day later he repeated in an interview with MSNBC that "Ukraine is very important," but added: "We are $31 trillion in debt." What factors are shaping the GOP's stance on Ukraine? Here's everything you need to know:

How much money has the U.S. spent on Ukraine's defense?

Let's start with the "blank check" charge from McCarthy. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) pushed back against the idea that Congress had been too loose with the pursestrings on Ukraine's behalf. "I believe the support for Ukraine and their courage … will not stop," she said Monday, but added: "We have never given a blank check to Ukraine."

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But "keeping track of the numbers is challenging," Alice Speri wrote for The Intercept in September. The Defense Department this month said that the U.S. had provided more than $18.2 billion in "security assistance" to Ukraine since January 2021. But that might not capture the full range of American expenses, Speri reported, because the official statements don't always distinguish between what money has been pledged and what has actually been delivered. That leads some analysts to suggest that America has spent up to $40 billion — $110 million a day — over the last year. "What is clear is that the volume and speed of the assistance headed to Ukraine is unprecedented," wrote Speri, "and that legislators and observers are struggling to keep up."

Are there any hawks left in the Republican Party?

McCarthy's comments might surprise Americans old enough to remember the die-hard anti-Soviet hawkishness of Reagan Republicans during the Cold War. But those days are apparently gone in the Trump Era: A Morning Consult poll released this week revealed that just 29 percent of GOP voters think the U.S. has an obligation to help Ukraine. Just 38 percent of independents agreed with the question, but 56 percent of Democrats did — suggesting that Dems might be the real hawks now. As for Republicans: 57 of them in the House voted against a Ukraine aid package in May.

Old habits still live among some older Republicans, though: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) reportedly remains committed to Ukraine's defense. If McCarthy and House GOP members try to shortchange that defense, they will meet some resistance from their Senate colleagues. "I would imagine that there would be significant tension because McConnell certainly is not going to shy away from continuing to support Ukraine," a Senate Republican aide told The Hill.

Is this just a Republican thing?

Not entirely. The Congressional Progressive Caucus released a letter on Monday asking President Bident to seek a diplomatic solution to the war — the better to avoid a worldwide nuclear conflagration — but also took pains to emphasize that they don't want to abandon Ukraine to Russian depredations. "We are united as Democrats in our unequivocal commitment to supporting Ukraine in their fight for their democracy and freedom in the face of the illegal and outrageous Russian invasion, and nothing in the letter advocates for a change in that support," Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said in a statement.

Despite Pelosi's pushback on the "blank check" comment, though, there appears to be bipartisan concern about the American spending on Ukraine. "Republicans and Democrats writ large want to see additional oversight and accountability when it comes to weapons and equipment the U.S. is sending to Ukraine," Politico reports, adding that both parties would really like to see Europeans step up with additional military spending in the conflict.

What do Ukrainians think of all this?

They're not thrilled, understandably, given that they've consistently asked for more weapons, not fewer. "We were shocked to hear these comments of Mr. McCarthy, honestly," David Arakhamia, a Ukrainian parliamentary leader, told the Financial Times. He said a Ukrainian delegation to the U.S. recently received assurance from McCarthy "that bipartisan support of Ukraine in its war with Russia will remain a top priority even if they win in the elections."

So what's going to happen?

That depends on if Republicans win the House — which seems likely — and how big their majority is. But the Biden Administration seems to be hopeful it will be able to continue its efforts to support Ukraine. "Privately, Biden aides believe that McCarthy will blink and keep the funnel open to Ukraine, at least for a while, though he may insist on smaller numbers," Politico reports.

A compromise might be in the offing. "McConnell and McCarthy could work out a deal next year on Ukraine money by demanding that Democrats agree to more oversight on military and economic aid to Kyiv," says The Hill. If Democrats do lose the House, though, they might act preemptively and use the "lame duck" session in December to pass one last big package to support Ukraine.

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