A group of right-wing House Republicans, who are pushing to load the annual defense bill with socially conservative policies on abortion, race and gender, have another demand: severe limits on US military support for Ukraine.
The pressure raises the prospect of a divisive floor fight over America’s support for the war effort just as President Biden tries to rally European allies to support Kyiv in its conflict with Russia.
The group’s military aid proposals have no chance of passing the House, where there continues to be strong bipartisan support for supporting Ukraine’s military effort, or going anywhere in the Senate. But the far-right’s insistence on voting on the issue in any case further jeopardized the defense legislation and transformed what is usually a widely supported measure that provides annual pay for US military personnel and puts Pentagon policy in a partisan battleground that has divided Republicans. on screen.
The House began debating the $886 billion on Wednesday, sidestepping rifts as Republican leaders worked behind the scenes to appease ultraconservative lawmakers who are demanding votes to cut Ukrainian aid and add social policy dictates. But those disputes will eventually have to be resolved to pass the bill, which was expected to be approved on Friday – a timetable that is now in doubt as the hard right threatens to block the process.
They are seeking votes on a series of proposals that would curb U.S. support for Ukraine, including one to limit all funding for Kyiv until there is a diplomatic solution to the conflict and another that would end a $300 million program to train and equip Ukrainian troops that has existed for nearly a decade
“Congress should not authorize another penny for Ukraine and push the Biden administration to seek peace,” Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, Republican of Georgia, argued to lawmakers on the House Rules Committee this week, urging them to allow votes on several proposals she has. written on the subject. “Ukraine is not the 51st state of the United States of America.”
Representative Scott Perry, Republican of Pennsylvania and the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said that votes to limit support for Ukraine were every bit as important to members of his group as votes to limit abortion access and services for transgender soldiers. Asked if some could try to block the bill without such votes, he replied: “They could.”
Because Speaker Kevin McCarthy holds only a slim margin of control in the House, any rebellion from the right wing could stop the defense initiative in its tracks, denying him the votes he would need from his side to advance it to final passage. But if he bows to demands for votes on Ukraine, it would show divisions in Congress over the war at a critical juncture in the Ukraine counteroffensive, and comes just after Mr. Biden appealed to allies this week during a NATO summit to stay united in support.
“We can see from what happened at the NATO summit, the meaning and importance of all of us speaking with one voice and making sure that we give the Ukrainians what they need to win this war,” Representative Gregory W. Meeks of New. York, the top Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, said in an interview Wednesday. “It’s going to be the absolute worst thing to do to make a show of division – that’s playing right into Putin’s hands.”
Some mainstream Republicans say they are relishing the fight, seeing it as a potential opportunity to put the party’s rebellious right wing in its place.
“It’s going to fail big time,” Representative Mike D. Rogers, Republican of Alabama, said of the hard-right’s bid to end US support for Ukraine. “So I hope they get it right – I think you’ll see it go down overwhelmingly.”
The defense bill is the latest forum that right-wing lawmakers have used to challenge Mr. McCarthy’s leadership. Their protest, which began during January’s protracted speaker battle, resumed last month when 11 far-right lawmakers brought the House floor to a standstill to express their fury over Mr. McCarthy’s debt ceiling deal with President Biden. They threatened similar tactics in the future if he did not bow to their demands.
Mr McCarthy braced for an uphill battle over Ukraine funding in the coming months, when the Biden administration is expected to ask for billions of dollars to keep Kyiv’s war machine humming.
Hoping to prevent a rebellion from the right wing, the speaker publicly stated that he opposes any additional funding for Ukraine beyond the limits of the debt relief agreement, despite having publicly proclaimed just weeks ago: “I vote for aid for Ukraine, I support aid for Ukraine.”
But with the defense bill, the ultraconservative faction is trying to force the issue now.
Ms. Greene, who has become one of Mr. McCarthy’s closest allies, demurred on Wednesday when asked whether she would help other right-wing members block progress on the bill if leaders denied her a vote to limit Ukrainian funding. Ms. Greene, despite being one of the most outspoken left-wing members of the House, has routinely sided with Mr. McCarthy in disputes with his rank and file, and has refused to lend any support to efforts to undermine his leadership. But her involvement is an indicator of how deeply a vote on Ukraine could divide House Republicans.
Ukraine assistance is a delicate issue for the GOP politically. Both of the front-runners for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, former President Donald J. Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, have said they would like to limit US aid to Ukraine. According to a recent poll by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute, while more than 70 percent of Republicans want to see Ukraine win the war, only half support sending U.S. military aid to help the country defeat Russia.
Last year, 57 House Republicans voted against measure to provide $40 billion in military and humanitarian assistance for Ukraine. Congress approved a total of more than $113 billion in Ukrainian aid last year.
House GOP leaders expressed confidence Wednesday that they can defeat any proposal to strip funding for Ukraine, thereby preserving the integrity of the underlying defense bill. But they were vocal about the social policy measures, which they noted would alienate Democrats whose votes would be needed to pass the bill.
Ultraconservatives are pushing for votes on proposals that would undo a Pentagon policy offering time off and travel reimbursement to service members traveling out of state to obtain an abortion, to end diversity training in the military and to ensure that medical services for transgender troops are limited. .
“The ones I think are actually more difficult,” said Representative Tom Cole, Republican of Oklahoma and the chairman of the Rules Committee. “You’re not going to get Democrats like that.”
GOP leaders appealed to their colleagues on Wednesday to support the bill as is, highlighting provisions already included that would ban drag shows at military installations and the teaching of critical race theory.
“This bill follows the woke, failed, far-left policies that leftist Democrats have unfairly imposed on the Department of Defense and our men and women in uniform,” Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, the No. 4 Republican, told reporters.