A group of right-wing House Republicans pushing to load the annual defense bill with socially conservative policies on abortion, race and gender has another demand: severe restrictions on US military support for Ukraine.
The pressure raises the prospect of a divisive showdown on the floor over American support for the war effort just as President Biden tries to rally European allies to back Kiev in its conflict with Russia.
The group’s proposals on military aid have no chance of passing the House, where there continues to be strong bipartisan support to bolster Ukraine’s war effort, or going anywhere in the Senate. But the far-right’s insistence on voting on the issue nonetheless further endangered defense legislation and transformed what is normally a widely held measure that provides annual pay raises to US military personnel and transforms the policy of the Pentagon in a partisan battlefield that put Republican divisions on the screen.
The House began debating the $886 billion measure Wednesday, sidestepping rifts as Republican leaders worked hard behind the scenes to appease ultra-conservative lawmakers demanding votes to cut aid to Ukraine and add social policy dictates. But these disputes will ultimately need to be resolved to pass the bill, which was expected to receive approval on Friday, a timetable that is now in doubt as the far-right threatens to delay the process.
They are seeking votes on a series of proposals that would hamper US support for Ukraine, including one to cut all funding to Kiev until there is a diplomatic resolution to the conflict and another that would end a program from $300 million to train and equip Ukrainian soldiers that has been in place for nearly a decade.
“Congress should not authorize another dime for Ukraine and push the Biden administration to pursue peace,” Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Georgia Republican, argued this week to House Rules Committee lawmakers, calling on them to allow the vote on several proposals he wrote on the subject. « Ukraine is not the 51st state of the United States of America. »
Rep. Scott Perry, a Pennsylvania Republican and chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said votes to cut support for Ukraine are just as important to members of his group as votes to limit abortion access and services for transgender soldiers. Asked if some might try to block the bill without those votes, he replied, « They might. »
Since Speaker Kevin McCarthy has only a slim margin of control in the House, any right-wing rebellion could stop the defense measure in its tracks, denying him the votes he’d need on his side to get it through to final passage. But if he bows to calls for votes on Ukraine, it would showcase divisions in Congress over the war at a critical juncture in Ukraine’s counteroffensive, and soon after Biden appealed to allies this week during a NATO summit to stay united in help.
« We can see from what transpired at the NATO summit the significance and importance of all speaking with one voice and making sure we give the Ukrainians what they need to win this war, » said 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 absolutely the worst thing to do to have a divisive show — it’s playing right into Putin’s hands. »
Some mainstream Republicans say they enjoy the fight, seeing it as a potential opportunity to put the party’s insurgent right wing in its place.
« It’s going to bust big, » Congressman Mike D. Rogers, a Republican from Alabama, said of the far-right’s attempt to eliminate American support for Ukraine. « So hopefully they do it in order — I think you’ll see it go down overwhelmingly. »
The defense bill is the latest forum right-wing lawmakers have used to challenge McCarthy’s leadership. Their outcry, which began during their long battle with speakers in January, resumed last month when 11 far-right lawmakers blocked the chamber to express their anger over McCarthy’s debt ceiling deal with the president Biden. They have threatened similar tactics in the future if he fails to comply with their demands.
Mr. McCarthy had been preparing for an uphill battle over Ukraine’s funding in the coming months as the Biden administration is expected to require billions of dollars to keep Kiev’s war machine going.
Hoping to avert a right-wing uprising, the speaker publicly stated that he was against any further funding for Ukraine beyond the limits of the debt ceiling agreement, despite having publicly proclaimed a few weeks earlier: “I am voting for aid to ‘Ukraine, I support aid to Ukraine.
But with the defense bill, the ultra-conservative faction is now trying to force the issue.
Ms Greene, who has become one of McCarthy’s closest allies, balked Wednesday when asked if she would help other right-wingers block progress on the bill if leaders deny her a vote to cut funding to the Ukraine. Ms Greene, despite being one of the more outspoken far-right 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 her leadership of the House. she. But her involvement is an indicator of how deeply a vote on Ukraine could divide Republicans in the House.
Assistance to Ukraine is a politically sensitive issue for the GOP. Both frontrunners for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, former President Donald J. Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, have said they would like to limit US assistance to Ukraine. According to a recent poll by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute, while more than 70% of Republicans want to see Ukraine win the war, only half support sending US military aid to help the country defeat Russia.
Last year, 57 Republicans in the House voted against a measure provide $40 billion in military and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine. Congress approved a total of more than $113 billion in aid to Ukraine last year.
GOP House leaders on Wednesday expressed confidence they could reject any proposal to cut funding for Ukraine, thus preserving the integrity of the underlying defense bill. But they worried loudly 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 roll back a Pentagon policy that offers vacation and travel reimbursements to service members who travel out of state to get an abortion, end diversity training in the military, and ensure that medical services for transgender troops are limited.
“The ones I think are actually more dangerous,” said Rep. Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican and rules committee chairman. « That way you won’t get any Democrats. »
GOP leaders Wednesday called on their colleagues to support the bill as it stands, highlighting already-included provisions that would ban drag shows at military installations and the teaching of critical race theory.
« This bill goes after the woke, failed, far-left policies that far-left Democrats have unfairly forced upon the Department of Defense and our men and women in uniform, » said Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, the number 4 republican. reporters.