The ouster of Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) as Speaker is throwing the future of U.S. aid for Ukraine in the air.
The assistance had already faced a tough path to passage, as more Republicans have come out in opposition to additional aid. But as the race to replace McCarthy heats up, the road ahead has only become rockier.
“It was clearly a challenge before, but we were going to get it done,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Wednesday. “It really depends on exactly what emerges from this next round for Speaker.”
While no clear front-runner has emerged in the Speakership race yet, buzz has been building around candidates to fill the empty chair — and their position on further aid to Ukraine.
Rep. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.), who heads the biggest conservative caucus in the House and is a possible contender, wouldn’t commit to bringing aid for Ukraine to the floor if elected Speaker, in remarks to reporters Wednesday.
“I think that the commander in chief ought to sit down in a classified setting and tell those of us that have not supported for the same reason, time and time again,” he said. “We want to know where the American taxpayer dollars are going and what’s the endgame.”
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, also drew attention for saying he was “against” moving forward on Ukraine aid after announcing his bid for Speaker.
“I’m against that,” he said Wednesday, adding: “The most pressing issue on Americans’ minds is not Ukraine. It’s the border situation, and it’s crime on the streets.”
However, others shared different accounts not long after.
“That’s not what he told us,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said of Jordan. “He told us that it would be something that we would deal with, but we want the border security, that piece first, and that would have to be part of the negotiation.”
In a later comment to The Hill, Jordan’s office said its position on aid “hasn’t changed” wants “know what the mission is” and “how the money is being spent,” when pressed on his support for further assistance.
The back-and-forth comes as more Republicans raise scrutiny over the next round of U.S. assistance.
Hern and Jordan were among a group of more than 100 Republicans who voted against $300 million of aid for Ukraine that was supported by McCarthy and House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.), who also announced his Speakership bid Wednesday.
It’s not clear exactly where Scalise lands on Ukraine at the moment, but he is being favorably considered by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), the lawmaker who brought forward the motion to oust McCarthy.
A report card on Ukraine support from Defending Democracy Together awarded Scalise a B on the issue, while both Jordan and Hern have earned an F.
Regardless of their personal position, any new Speaker will face the same dynamics as McCarthy did. Far-right lawmakers, who are generally united against Ukraine aid, hold sway in the conference and are expected to keep up their resistance.
The Ukraine skepticism is also in line with a chunk of Republican voters, who were found less likely to support economic or arms assistance for Kyiv in a poll released by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs Wednesday. Only 47 percent of Republicans supported additional military aid to Ukraine compared to 77 percent of Democrats.
“That’s the historical trend in the West, that we get war fatigue, and that’s what we got to fight against, because that’s exactly part of Vladimir Putin playbook,” Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) told The Hill.
Republican supporters in both chambers say aid is critical to national security and defeating Russian aggression, while also warning a Russian victory could embolden China to move against Taiwan.
“I understand there are some hard-liners that really do want to put their foot down on Ukraine aid, that it is a national security issue,” Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), a member of GOP leadership, said Wednesday. “If we can defeat the Russians, through the Ukrainians, that’s better for our country.”
The clock is running out to get more security assistance to Ukraine, as the available money for the Pentagon to spend in the war is swiftly running out.
The Defense Department this week urged Congress to act as money has entirely run out to purchase weapons from the defense industry for Ukraine and there is $5.4 billion left to pull from Defense Department stocks, plus $1.6 billion to replenish U.S. inventory.
Pentagon deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh said the U.S. can support Ukraine for “just a little bit longer.”
“We need Congress to act to ensure there is no disruption in our support,” she said at a Tuesday briefing.
Ukraine, which will need more funding to keep its counteroffensive going, is also engaging with the candidates for next House Speaker, according to Ukrainian Ambassador to the U.S. Oksana Markarova.
As opposition to further aid grows in the House GOP conference, supporters in both chambers say the Senate is likely to take the lead in moving additional assistance.
Pressed on his strategy for moving the aid, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters Wednesday that he thinks “it’s important” and “it’s still a major priority.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) also told reporters Wednesday that he and McConnell are working to get another round of assistance across the finish line.
“I’ve spoken to Leader McConnell, we’re going to work together to get a big package done,” he said, adding, “We have large bipartisan majorities and aid for Ukraine and we’re going to work to get that done.”