House braces for fight over Ukraine aid amid other funding priorities

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The battle over funding for Ukraine is set to heat up in the House, as the chamber races to approve funding bills.

The money wasn’t included in a short-term government funding bill that averted a shutdown over the weekend, and some House Republicans are already warning about the looming fight.

“There are a lot of us that care deeply about this, and it’s a hill we’re willing to die on,” Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) told The Hill on Saturday, shortly after the House passed legislation to keep the government funded through mid-November. “It’s an existential threat to global security. We believe that.”

“And we’re going to take up that fight, and we’re going to win that fight,” he said. “Ukraine will be funded.”

Biden administration officials warn the clocking is ticking in Ukraine.

“While we have the ability to continue to support Ukraine’s ability to defend itself in the immediate term, we have already exhausted much of the existing security assistance funding. It is imperative that Congress take action,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said Monday.

“We cannot under any circumstances allow America’s support for Ukraine to be interrupted. Our allies, our adversaries and the world will be watching.”

President Biden has requested Congress approve an estimated $24 billion in additional military and economic assistance for Ukraine, a pledge that supporters say is an important signal of America’s practical and symbolic support for Kyiv. 

Increasing U.S. assistance for Ukraine ahead of the winter is also seen as essential to help shore up the country’s resilience ahead of expected challenges, including Russian attacks on civilian infrastructure — such as energy and water — and rain, sleet and snow likely to further bog down Ukrainian forces already slowed down by dug-in Russian defenses. 

Senators had previously hoped to greenlight about $6 billion in new assistance as part of a bipartisan bill to avert a shutdown last week. But that effort failed after House Republicans jammed the upper chamber by passing a bill just hours before the deadline to keep the government funded without the aid — essentially daring Democrats to vote to shut down the U.S. government for Ukraine assistance. 

While Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) told reporters that he supported the case for further aid, he also backed the move to unlink the funding from the stopgap bill.

“It should be separate. We need to have that debate,” he said, as more Republicans have raised questions about the full accounting of the billions of dollars in aid sent to Ukraine so far and their progress against Russia. 

With the omission of Ukraine aid in the latest stopgap bill, lawmakers have already begun thinking of other potential vehicles to attach assistance to, as Congress prepares to pass several major spending bills in the months ahead.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) told The Hill on Saturday that he expects the Senate to take the lead.  

“We’re gonna get a bill from the Senate on Ukraine funding, and I anticipate it will go to the floor. It’ll pass,” he said, adding he could see the upper chamber attaching the aid to its annual defense funding bill.  

“I think the question is, will McCarthy allow anything like that to go to the floor without border security funding,” McCaul said. “So, I think there are a lot of members who want to tie the two together.”

Republicans in both chambers are emphasizing the need for more aid for Ukraine, but also pushing for funds to address security at America’s southern border. These lawmakers say one does not have to come at the expense of the other. 

“To those who say we need to fix our border, you’re right,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said during an appearance on CBS’s “Face The Nation” on Sunday. “To those who say we need to help Ukraine, you’re right. To those who say we need to do the border, not Ukraine, you’re wrong.”

“We got to fix asylum, we need border security agent increases, we need more detention beds,” he added. “I think there’s Democratic support for major border security reform, but we have to attach it to Ukraine to those who say we need to fix our border.”

House Republicans initially fought to tie border security to last month’s shutdown fight. But GOP leadership ultimately abandoned the strategy after conservatives tanked a bill that would have prevented a shutdown and enacted a chunk of H.R. 2, their signature border bill.   

Among the measures Republicans press for in H.R. 2, which passed the House earlier this year, are provisions aimed at boosting border wall construction, the hiring of border agents and limiting access to asylum — laying the groundwork for a potentially nasty border fight in the coming weeks that could see Ukraine aid caught in its crosshairs. 

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said that Ukrainian officials are talking to both Republicans and Democrats to shore up continued support for Kyiv so that assistance is not axed again “under any circumstances.”

“We have a very in-depth discussion with both parts of the Congress, Republicans and Democrats, and against the background of a potential shutdown in the United States, the decision was taken as it was,” Kuleba said.

“But we’re now working with both sides of the Congress to make sure it does not repeat again, under any circumstances.”

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