July 19, 2024

(Bloomberg) — Lawmakers omitted further aid to Ukraine in a measure passed Saturday to avoid a federal government shutdown, signaling that US support for funding its fight against the Russian invasion is getting harder.

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House GOP leaders scuttled the $6 billion aid for Kyiv in a bill that passed both chambers hours before a midnight deadline. The decision — at least for now — dealt a blow to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who last week met with President Joe Biden and lawmakers in Washington to personally plead for new weapons systems, including F-16 fighter jets and longer-range ATACMS missiles.

The Biden administration and lawmakers from both parties sought to reassure Ukraine that US military aid won’t stop and that assistance may be supplied in a separate bill down the road.

Biden said in a statement Saturday the “overwhelming majority of Congress have been steadfast in their support for Ukraine” and that he expected Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to help secure additional funding.

“We cannot under any circumstances allow American support for Ukraine to be interrupted,” Biden said. “I fully expect the Speaker will keep his commitment to the people of Ukraine and secure passage of the support needed to help Ukraine at this critical moment.

Minutes after the Senate passed the short-term spending bill, Democratic leaders in the House demanded McCarthy allow a vote on US support for Ukraine when the House returns next week. McCarthy has indicated he would try to tie the aid to US border policy changes that Democrats oppose.

Lawmakers in both parties who support the Ukraine funding said they would work to approve further assistance.

“In the coming weeks, we expect the Senate will work to ensure the US government continues to provide critical and sustained security and economic support for Ukraine,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a joint statement with Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell and other senators.

Senator Jim Risch, the senior Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, said he’s confident Ukraine funding will be maintained and there’s “absolutely no question about” Republican support for it.

“It is not the end of the of the appropriation process,” he said. “The Ukraine funding will be in at the end.”

Cracks Emerging

Continued backing from the US and its allies is vital for Zelenskiy as his forces struggle to advance against Russian troops still occupying about 17% of his territory, fueling doubts about his ability to oust them completely.

McConnell is among Ukraine’s strongest allies. Yet other Republicans, including some who support the country’s fight more broadly, didn’t want to move ahead with more funding for Kyiv in a short-term bill without dealing with migration at the US border, according to a person familiar with Senate Republicans’ thinking.

There’s also some question about how urgently Ukraine needs additional money, the person said.

The US has supplied some $44 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since Russia’s invasion in early 2022 and defense officials have warned of the risk of hardware shortfalls, including in the US military’s own stockpile.

The Pentagon has “exhausted nearly all available security assistance funding for Ukraine” and a funding gap would delay or curtail urgent needs, including air defense and ammunition, Comptroller Michael McCord said in a letter to House Democrats on Friday.

Cracks have begun to emerge in the support for Kyiv, with Poland, a key ally, this month threatening to suspend arms deliveries in a dispute over grain shipments. At the same time, Zelenskiy’s efforts to win over major countries of the developing world at the United Nations General Assembly last week yielded few visible results.

McCarthy, who has asked for accountability of money that has already gone to Ukraine, told reporters last week that he rejected Zelenskiy’s request to address Congress again because lawmakers didn’t have time in a “busy week.”

Hardliners in McCarthy’s party have said the US would be better served directing more money to the US military to better prepare for any direct fight against China or Russia.

McCarthy’s decision to defy ultraconservatives on the short-term spending bill, though, could free him from the grip of the far right.

(Updates to reflect Senate passage and add statements from Biden and Schumer)

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