Alarm grows in Kyiv, Washington as GOP House blocks Ukraine aid

Congress on Saturday blocked new aid for Ukraine in its government spending deal, a rebuke to Kyiv with geopolitical reverberations that came despite a concerted lobbying push from senior Biden officials and the highest-ranking GOP senator.

Although the White House said Ukraine needed $20.6 billion in aid to fight Russia’s invasion, Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) stripped all funds for the U.S. ally from the government spending bill, under immense pressure from a GOP caucus that has increasingly turned against Biden’s handling of the war. The Senate had advanced a bipartisan bill to send roughly $6 billion to Ukraine, but Democrats wary of being blamed for a government shutdown approved the House version with only hours to go before federal appropriations expired.

The rejection of the money - nine days after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky flew to Washington and pleaded with lawmakers to maintain their support - reflects hardening GOP opposition to helping Ukraine, and will send immediate shock waves through European capitals and the government in Kyiv.

In the days leading up to the vote on the appropriations deal, top U.S. officials - including Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd T. Austin, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) - made a concerted effort to build support for the package among Republicans, only for it to fall into the maw of resistance among House conservatives, who have been emboldened by former president Donald Trump and other GOP figures to oppose additional support.

Ukraine’s supporters in the House, Senate and White House say they will not give up despite the defeat, emphasizing that most members of Congress still support the additional funding. They also note that the stopgap spending bill approved Saturday will only fund the government until mid-November, providing another opportunity for pushing again for money for Ukraine.

But the failure to push the aid through Saturday could still have consequences for the war effort, emboldening Russian President Vladimir Putin, giving America’s European allies an excuse to pare back their own financial commitments and widening Ukraine’s dangerously large budget deficit, analysts say.

GOP support for Ukraine’s defense has been dropping precipitously with each House vote, and there is little reason to believe McCarthy will face any less resistance to supporting Kyiv if he tries to rally his conference next time he tries to do so.


“We are engaged in a battle of life and death with Russia, and every little bit of support is helping destroy Putin,” said Sviatoslav Yurash, a member of the Ukrainian parliament and a soldier who returned in August from a humanitarian mission on the front lines in Donbas. Yurash, whose partner was killed in a Russian missile attack last year, said he and many of his colleagues closely tracked the news out of Congress. “This will give him a greater chance of killing more of my people and destroying more of my nation.”

The spending deal, which passed by overwhelming bipartisan margins in both the House and Senate, extends government funding past a midnight deadline and provides domestic disaster relief sought by both chambers. The White House had begun preparations for a funding lapse that would have left millions of federal employees without pay. After House Republicans folded Saturday on demands for sharp spending cuts, they dared Democrats to shut down the government over financial support for a foreign country.

“If you’re telling the American people with a straight face you will shut down the American government over Ukraine, then shame on you,” Rep. Michael Lawler (R-N.Y.) said on the House floor early Saturday.

Democratic lawmakers fumed at the outcome, particularly because Senate Republicans supported $6 billion in aid. “I can’t believe people are going to walk away from Ukraine at this moment in time,” Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) said.

Sen. Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.) held up the spending bill for several hours on Saturday evening until he was able to secure a promise from Congressional leaders that they would soon try approving aid for Ukraine. He said in an interview that he did so in part because his mother was born in Poland and the Nazi invasion there destroyed her family.

McCarthy’s decision to move a bill without Ukraine funding came together suddenly, leaving aides at the State and Defense departments to launch an unsuccessful last-minute lobbying campaign.

Ukraine’s biggest champions in the Senate quickly realized they had few options.

McConnell, one of Ukraine’s strongest backers in the GOP, retreated in the face of opposition from his Senate Republican colleagues, who wanted to help McCarthy out of his shutdown predicament in the House.

McConnell made a pitch to Republican senators Saturday morning to approve the already drafted legislation that included aid for Ukraine, according to two people briefed on the meeting, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intraparty negotiations. McConnell, seeing he lacked the votes, gave up on the effort, but made clear the conference would need to take up additional funding for Ukraine soon, they said.

The GOP leader had called White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Sept. 22 to let him know that the administration’s full $20.6 billion request for Ukraine was too much to ask for on a six-week stopgap spending bill, according to two Republican aides, who spoke on background to discuss the private talks. McConnell instructed Sullivan to see if administration officials could just transfer money from different accounts, but on Sept. 24, Blinken called to say that the administration did not have the legal authority to move money around.

Blinken told McConnell that it would be disastrous, from a military perspective and symbolically to U.S. allies, if Congress did not include some money for Ukraine in this short-term legislation.

“Financial and political shock to Ukraine,” Blinken told McConnell, according to the GOP leader’s aides.

Blinken was in contact with lawmakers in charge of appropriations all week, as part of a “full-court press” to underscore the importance of Ukrainian aid, said a senior State Department official. Austin, the defense secretary, also made calls on Saturday. Besides reinforcing the need to keep the government open, he and other senior Pentagon officials emphasized to lawmakers the importance of helping Ukrainian forces defend themselves, said a defense official familiar with those talks, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss closed-door meetings. Austin has been personally involved with lawmakers for weeks, but those efforts increased over the weekend as the prospect of a shutdown neared, the official said.

And yet these pleas could not overcome opposition among the GOP’s most conservative members to U.S. support for the war - opposition that has been growing more intense as the war drags on.

In July, during debate over the annual Pentagon policy bill, 70 Republicans in the House voted to oppose all security assistance to Ukraine. On Wednesday, 93 House Republicans supported an amendment that would have blocked security assistance. Despite overwhelming bipartisan support for Ukraine funding, GOP leaders then forced another vote Thursday on a narrow $300 million account that funds regular activities with Ukraine - and 117 Republicans voted against that measure, more than half the caucus, while all 210 Democrats and 101 Republicans backed continuing the funding.

The United States has already directed more than $60 billion in aid to Ukraine, including more than $40 billion in direct military assistance. That is more than any other country.

“This really puts a huge question mark over the future of U.S. support for Ukraine,” said Michal Baranowski, managing director of the German Marshall Fund of the U.S., who watched the congressional fight closely from Warsaw. “That’s what I’m worried about, immediately.”


For the Ukrainians, the lack of funding will prompt an immediate attempt to figure out alternative solutions. Biden’s request included $13.1 billion for military assistance to Ukraine, which also would go toward paying for the replenishment of Pentagon weapons stocks that have run low after more than a year of transferring weapons and ammunition to Kyiv. If the Pentagon does not have money for backfilling the items for even a few weeks, it could disrupt the Defense Department’s ability to meet purchasing and contracting deadlines that have allowed it to maintain its own arsenal and feed a steady supply of weapons to Ukraine since the start of the war early last year.

Despite the setback, Ukrainian officials say they will continue to make their case for help.

“We are at the point when everybody understands what is right, and what is wrong, who is the aggressor and who is the aggressed,” said Oleg Ustenko, an economic adviser to Zelensky. “The Americans have been with us from the very beginning of the Russian invasion. They have shared with us their bread. I am sure that the aid to Ukraine, to a full amount, will eventually be in the budget.”