Photo via the Center for Strategic and International Studies
MAGA and far-right Republicans have shown time and time again their lack of support for Ukraine; it goes as far as to say that many would rather see a win for Russia in the war.
Since the start of the war, Republicans in Congress have attempted to delay or deny aid packages sent to Ukraine, claiming that the costs are too significant of a burden for the U.S. to take on. In reality, aid to Ukraine is only a small fraction of what was spent during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Ukraine has been able to hold a strong front against Russia, but much of that is due to U.S. aid packages supplying weapons and ammunition. It is estimated that much of the approximately $2.5 billion spent a month by Ukraine is money sent by Washington, with the U.S. sending almost triple what any European country has. This is money that has been used to assist refugees, purchase weapons, and to support the Ukrainian people in their fight for democracy.
The debate over sending aid to Ukraine has caused deep division in Congress. The most recent government shutdown was averted at the last minute with the bi-partisan passing of a spending bill that included none of the spending cuts except for cuts to aid to Ukraine. The only way that House Republicans and Democrats were able to come together and agree to a bill preventing a government shutdown was to cut funding to Ukraine. Additionally, the agreement was only made with Democrats under the impression that aid to Ukraine would return soon and that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy would come to an agreement with President Joseph Biden.
Unfortunately for House Democrats and the Ukrainian war effort, Speaker McCarthy was recently ousted on October 3, 2023, making him the first House Speaker to be removed from the position. The already complex and controversial aid packages and military support sent to Ukraine have become even more difficult now that there is no permanent speaker in place, and it is unclear when there will be. GOP leaders and MAGA republicans combined forces against McCarthy largely because of disagreements over aid to Ukraine. Representative Gaetz of Florida led the decision with accusations that the speaker was making secret deals with President Biden to secure more aid for Ukraine, even though aid to Ukraine was left out of the deal that averted the recent government shutdown in the week before, and there is no evidence that any secret deals were taking place.
Electing a new Speaker will likely be long and complicated, as many candidates are vying for the position. Without a Speaker, the House can not pass legislation, including aid packages to Ukraine, leaving the situation in an uncertain limbo. Several potential speaker candidates have expressed concern and disapproval of continued funding sent to Ukraine.
One candidate vying for speaker, Representative Jim Jordan, has claimed that as Speaker, he would make sure the House gives priority to sending aid to Israel over Ukraine. Other far-right candidates have echoed this position, hoping to gain the support of MAGA Republicans to secure the 51% of the vote necessary to win. McCarthy himself has yet to announce his decision of whether to run again or not. His supporters have yet to rule out the possibility of nominating him again as well, despite the tenuous and long process of his initial run for the position that left the House speaker-less for weeks.
Ukraine is left in a dangerous limbo as the U.S. House is left without a Speaker, and will likely be confronted by another potential government shutdown. The Pentagon’s Chief Financial Officer, Michael McCord, expressed concern in a letter released by House Democrats that of the $26 billion sent to Ukraine, only $1.6 billion is left. At the rate that Ukraine is burning through ammunition, weapons, and resources, funding reserves will likely run out by the winter. Many Ukrainians will be left in a dangerous and potentially life threatening situation without the support of U.S. weapons and aid. Additionally, experts warn that European countries will be unable to pick up the slack from a dwindle in U.S. funding. The uncertainty of continued funding leaves the Ukrainian military in a difficult position as they plan for their winter offensive.
So why is it that far-right Republicans are so willing to cut spending to Ukraine when the country’s military defense relies heavily on it, and the funding is nothing compared to U.S. spending in other foreign conflicts? Why would so many Republicans rather see the government shut down, resulting in financial implications for millions of Americans, than to continue sending aid packages to Ukraine?
While many extremist Republicans claim to be worried about the money sent to Ukraine, the reality is that they don’t really care about the money. Republican propaganda is convincing the U.S. public that aid to Ukraine and foreign spending is much higher than it really is. The small fraction of the federal budget that is used for foreign aid is not a “cash handout,” but is spent on weapons, supplies, and ammunition that are critical for Ukraine to uphold its democracy. One such Republican spreading false information around aid to Ukraine is presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis, who uses misleading terms such as “blank check” to refer to aid sent to Ukraine. DeSantis was once a strong advocate for defending Ukraine from Russia since the invasion of Crimea in 2014, but in the past couple of years, he has sided with other far-right conservatives in supporting spending cuts of aid.
So why is it that DeSantis and other Trumpian conservatives are in opposition to Ukraine? A large part of it has to do with the Ukrainians and President Zelenskyy’s role in the impeachment of Donald Trump. Trump’s first impeachment was on the basis that he withheld hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Ukraine in order to elicit an investigation into Joe Biden, who at the time was running for president. Short-sighted and vengeful MAGA Republicans would rather see democracy fall in Ukraine and Russia win than come to terms with Trump’s impeachment.
It is also important to point out that far too many extremist Republicans admire Vladamir Putin and his malicious regime, in large part because of rhetoric from Trump himself. At the beginning of the invasion, Trump is quoted in a radio interview calling Putin “savvy” and praising the attack. It also goes without saying that Trump’s relationship with the Russian dictator is notably close, and he has been heard several times boasting of his close ties to Putin. Most recently, these close ties can be seen when Putin publicly voiced his support for Trump in the wake of his recent indictments. Putin views Trump’s legal battles as good for Russia, taking attention away from the atrocities committed by his regime in Ukraine. Trump’s close ties and infatuation with the Russian dictator have invigorated his base in the U.S.
Just as there does not seem to be a clear end in sight for the war in Ukraine, the battle at home over critical aid and support for democracy abroad does not seem to be letting up anytime soon. MAGA Republicans and conservatives will continue to drive a wedge in Congress and spread misinformation in order to achieve their goals, even if it means a government shutdown and increased violence against Ukraine.
This article was edited by Sarah Shanahan and Natasha Tretter.