July 15, 2024

House Republicans successfully removed Ukraine aid from a Pentagon spending bill on Thursday, a major U-turn after they helped defeat an identical proposal just a day earlier.

The maneuver by Speaker Kevin McCarthy is his latest attempt to shore up Republican support for the$826 billion Pentagon bill, which has already been blocked on the floor twice due to GOP infighting.

Republicans won a 217-211 procedural vote Thursday that removed $300 million in Ukraine-related money from their defense appropriations bill and cleared the way for a vote on the aid as a separate bill. Unlike previous failed procedural votes on the Pentagon bill, just one Republican broke ranks.

The tactic was aimed at flipping GOP holdouts to approve the Pentagon legislation and allow thestandalone Ukraine bill to pass with bipartisan support.

Separating the relatively small amount of Ukraine funding is a considerable reversal for the majority of House Republicans who helped defeat a conservative push to remove the money from the bill on Wednesday. Lawmakers had rejected 104-330 an amendment to remove the $300 million, which allows the Pentagon to train Ukrainian soldiers and purchase weapons for Kyiv. A second proposal to bar security assistance to Ukraine failed in an even wider 93-339 vote.

The about-face on Thursday drew recriminations from Democrats on the House floor. Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, warned the vote would be used in Kremlin propaganda and be portrayed as Congress cutting funding for Ukraine.

“The Russians are good at propaganda,” Smith said. “It will be played as America backing off of its commitment for Ukraine.”

Ukraine aid has become politically contentious in the GOP conference and is opposed by many lawmakers on McCarthy’s right flank. Conservative opposition to further Ukraine assistance creates a conundrum for McCarthy, who is aiming to pass a conservative defense bill opposed by Democrats. He can afford just a few Republican defectors.

“Nobody outside this body is going to see … this tactic as anything other than at least an attempt to defund the efforts to help Ukraine,” said Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), a co-chair of the Congressional Ukraine Caucus.

Republicans downplayed the maneuver to again strip the funding. House Rules Chair Tom Cole (R-Okla.) argued the move would allow opponents of either measure — Ukraine aid or the defense bill — to voice their opinions on each independently.

“Why don’t we make sure this gets through? I mean, I’m just mystified that this is somehow a problem,” Cole told Democrats ahead of the vote. “We guarantee you something you want is going to pass the House and you’re upset about it.”

The $300 million allocation is part of a Pentagon program created during the Obama administration in the wake of Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea. It is separate from the $24 billion President Joe Biden requested in August to support Ukraine as it continues its counteroffensive against Russia.

Ukraine aid has also become a major sticking point in the shutdown fight on Capitol Hill. The Senate has unveiled a stopgap that includes $6 billion in military and economic support for Ukraine, a fraction of Biden’s request.

McCarthy has indicated a short-term government funding bill that contains Ukraine aid is a non-starter for House Republicans if the bill doesn’t include other GOP-friendly provisions, such as border security measures.

Still, the House GOP maneuvering to pass the defense bill won’t prevent a shutdown this weekend. The Pentagon bill stands no chance in the Senate. And there’s no deal in sight with just three days to find a way to keep the lights on.

“Calling Republican leadership a clown show is doing a disservice to actual working clowns,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), the top Rules Committee Democrat.

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