WASHINGTON (AP) — A path for additional U.S. aid to Ukraine appears increasingly fraught after the ouster of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, with many House Republicans opposing help for the war-torn country as they search for a new leader.
Tuesday’s historic vote to remove McCarthy as speaker comes at a critical time, with a deadline for funding the government little more than a month away, and as opposition to aiding Ukraine’s defensive war against Russia slowly gains momentum among Republicans in both chambers of Congress.
Leaders dropped $6 billion in Ukraine aid from the temporary funding measure passed Saturday as they focused on passing it quickly, just hours before the government would have shut down.
Congress will have to figure out by mid-November how to pass another spending bill to keep the government open. Supporters of Ukraine aid — including Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who visited the Capitol to plead for the money in person just two weeks ago — say it’s essential that additional funding is included.
But the House is leaderless for now, halting legislation. And it is unclear when the next speaker will be elected.
Because the eight Republican lawmakers who voted to oust McCarthy were upset with his decision to work with Democrats on funding the government, his successor will likely fight the Senate and House Democrats on many issues, including funding for Ukraine.
“It does worry me,” President Joe Biden said Wednesday. He said he would address Ukraine aid soon.
“We cannot and should not again be faced with an 11th hour decision of brinksmanship that threatens to shut down the government,” Biden said.
In the Senate, where bipartisan support for Ukraine is stronger, Democrats and Republicans also expressed alarm.
“The fight in Ukraine is a century-defining moment,” said Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut. “The rest of this century looks radically different if the United States abandons Ukraine. … If the decision in the House is to elect a speaker who will fight against Ukraine funding, that’s a decision that will be written about in the history books.”
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said he hopes House Republicans “come to their senses.” If the U.S. can’t help a country that is willing to sacrifice its own people to fight Russia, Manchin said, then “God help us all.”
Senate Republicans who support Ukraine aid have increasingly said it should be tied to increased money or policy changes to help manage the southern U.S. border. They see the pairing as a possible compromise that could politically benefit members of both parties. But any dealmaking is on hold as House Republicans try to find a new leader.
“Because of the chaos in the House today, it makes it harder to talk about the failed Biden Presidency and address our broken southern border,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.
So far, House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and House Majority Leader Steve Scalise have both announced that they will run for speaker. Oklahoma Rep. Kevin Hern is also weighing a bid.
Jordan has made clear his opposition to additional Ukraine aid and reiterated it Wednesday. “The most pressing issue on Americans’ minds is not Ukraine, it is the border situation and crime on the streets and everybody knows that,” Jordan told reporters.
Before the Ukraine money was dropped from the temporary funding bill, the House last week approved $300 million for a program that provides Ukrainian troops with training on the use of American-made weapons systems. The vote that was set up to allow some Republicans to register their opposition.
More than half of the Republican conference, 117 of 221, voted against the measure, including Jordan and Hern. Scalise voted for it.
Hern said Wednesday that Biden needs to “sit down in a classified setting, and tell those of us that have not supported, for the same reason time and time again, we want to know what the American taxpayer dollars are going and what’s the end game.”
Rep. Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D., voted for the $300 million in training funding, but said the Biden administration needs to do a better job of making the case.
“People have had enough over here. They want to hear a plan. They want to hear a message. They want to understand what we’re doing. And there’s a case to be made. Go make the case,” Armstrong said.
Some Democrats weren’t sure if the situation was better or worse in McCarthy’s absence, noting that McCarthy was the one who dropped the Ukraine aid from the government funding bill.
“Let me put it this way, we’re no worse off,” said Rep. Adam Smith of Washington state, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee.
But House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, who backs the assistance, said he knew that McCarthy was committed to funding Ukraine’s war because of his private conversations with him. Amid the chaos, he said, he fears that the government will shut down in November and that spending decisions will be punted until the end of the year in one massive funding package.
McCaul said support for Ukraine would be a major factor in whom he supports for speaker.
“It’s going to be even harder now with McCarthy gone,” McCaul said. “We’re running out of time.”
Associated Press writers Stephen Groves and Josh Boak and videojournalists Dan Huff and Nathan Ellgren contributed to this report.