Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is in the United States capital to meet US President Joe Biden, legislators, and defence officials in an effort to rally continued funding from Washington for the fight against Russia’s invasion.
The US has sent about $114bn in security and humanitarian aid to help Zelenskyy’s government since the beginning of the conflict in February 2022.
Since then, lawmakers in the US Congress – where Democrats have a majority in the US Senate and Republicans have a hold on the House of Representatives – have maintained bipartisan support for assistance to Kyiv.
But Zelenskyy’s visit on Thursday has come amid signs that the sands could be shifting, with some high-profile Republicans expressing growing scepticism over the steep price of continued US support for Ukraine’s defences.
Other segments of the GOP have outright rejected the prospect of more aid and threatened to wield their influence to scuttle or slow-roll legislation that would be needed to approve additional funding.
The issue has coalesced around a government spending bill that needs to be passed by the end of the month to avoid a federal government shutdown, with some Republicans opposing the White House’s push to attach $24bn more in aid to Ukraine to the legislation.
Here is what US legislators have recently said about more US aid to Ukraine:
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Democrat
Reflecting the position of the Democratic Party and the White House, Schumer has decried efforts by some Republicans to pass a spending bill that does not include further aid to Ukraine.
On Monday, he called the proposal “an insult to Ukraine and a gift to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin”.
He decried the effort on social media as a “far-right screed”.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican
Despite opposition within his party, McConnell has remained forceful in his support for aid to Ukraine. Instead, he has criticised Biden, a Democrat, for being too “timid” in rallying that support.
“I sometimes get the sense that I speak more about Ukraine matters than the president does,” he told reporters on Wednesday.
I was proud to welcome President @ZelenskyyUa to the Capitol this morning and hear firsthand about the status of Ukraine’s counteroffensive.
American support for Ukraine is not charity. It’s in our own direct interests – not least because degrading Russia helps to deter China. pic.twitter.com/u0W32MIRrw
— Leader McConnell (@LeaderMcConnell) September 21, 2023
Senator Rand Paul, Republican
Paul has gone a step further than many of his colleagues, saying he would seek to slow-roll any government funding bill if it contains further funding for Ukraine.
“Today I’m putting congressional leadership & [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,” the US senator wrote on X, the website formerly known as Twitter.
The stance means that the Senate would likely be unable to fast-track approval of a spending bill once it is approved by the US House of Representatives.
While a bill with more aid to Ukraine would likely still pass in the Senate, the slowdown would bring legislators to the brink of a government shutdown, and increase leverage for opponents seeking to drop the Ukraine aid from the package.
Today I’m putting congressional leadership & @POTUS 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.…
— Rand Paul (@RandPaul) September 20, 2023
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, Republican
McCarthy, whose party controls the House, has also become increasingly tepid towards the prospect of more aid for Ukraine, a departure from his staunch support earlier in the year.
Underscoring that softened position is McCarthy’s decision not to give Zelenskyy the opportunity to address the House during his visit to Capitol Hill, although the Ukrainian president is expected to meet some House legislators elsewhere during his visit.
“Look, what Russia has done – invade – is wrong,” McCarthy told reporters on Tuesday. “We want to make sure that ends. I also have always said from the beginning, no matter what the issue is, I want accountability for whatever the hardworking taxpayers spend their money on, and I want a plan for victory.”
He added he did not need to commit anything to Zelenskyy, and he had “questions” for the Ukrainian leader.
“Where is the accountability on the money we already spent? What is the plan for victory? I think that’s what the American public wants to know.”
Other Republican critics
In advance of Zelenskyy’s visit, a group of 23 Republican legislators – including Senators JD Vance, Rand Paul, Mike Braun, Tommy Tuberville, Mike Lee, and Roger Marshall – said they would oppose approving further aid to Ukraine until several questions were answered.
In a letter to the director of the Office of Management and Budget, they said the public has not been given a clear accounting of how US funding has been used in Ukraine.
They also said they wanted more information about Ukraine’s long-term strategy, progress on its continuing counteroffensive against Russian forces, and what the Biden administration defines as “victory in Ukraine”.
“It would be an absurd abdication of congressional responsibility to grant this request [for further Ukraine aid] without knowing the answers to these questions,” they wrote.