June 18, 2024

The chaos in the House resulting from the demise of Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) Speakership poses very real political opportunities for President Biden, even as it also represents a threat to his agenda that endangers aid to Ukraine.

The White House has sought to take political advantage, contrasting Biden’s leadership with the disarray in the House and blaming the near shutdown on the GOP.

“Instead of threatening our national security with a shutdown that would force our troops and border patrol to work without pay, they should work with President Biden against the shared threats our country faces and protect our own security by standing up for Ukraine as they fight for freedom and democracy against tyranny and Russian brutality,” White House spokesman Andrew Bates said in a memo released Thursday.

But the uncertainty also threatens to disrupt the U.S. war effort while making allies uncertain about the nation’s direction. It’s a situation that Russian President Vladimir Putin is likely happy to see, and a worry for other pro-Ukraine figures in Washington such as Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.).

“Putin wants U.S. domestic political chaos and domestic political chaos in the West to divide the unity that we have been able to achieve to date. And I think most Republicans understand that dynamic,” said Emily Horne, a former spokesperson for the National Security Council under the Biden administration.

“The question that now they have to deal with is are they going to make the same commitments publicly that they say privately they believe in?”

Opposition to providing aid to Ukraine has been growing in the House among Republicans.

McCarthy did not include aid to Ukraine in the stopgap funding bill he brought to the House floor last week to avoid a shutdown, despite the fact a bipartisan Senate bill with the aid was advancing and would have had enough support in the House to make it to Biden’s desk.

The former Speaker didn’t want to bring that bill to the floor because the issue of Ukraine is so divisive in the House GOP conference.

In the end, McCarthy lost the Speakership anyway, and his chief Republican antagonist, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), accused him of having a “secret side deal” with Biden on Ukraine.

All of this will make it harder, though not impossible, for a new Speaker to advance Ukraine aid through the House.

The House dysfunction could threaten other Biden priorities, too.

Biden warned Friday that a government shutdown would hurt the progress over the past year to improve the U.S. economy, a major issue that the president and congressional Democrats are running on in 2024.

The next Speaker, even more than McCarthy, may need to toe a conservative line on spending.

One leading candidate is Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who has signaled he would end support to Ukraine. The other leading candidate, Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.), is seen as more of a dealmaker but would be under enormous pressure.

The White House has asked for Congress to approve $24 billion more in funding for Ukraine.

Biden this week said he will give a major speech on the need for aid to Ukraine amid polls showing eroding support. A new Reuters/Ipsos poll this week showed only 41 percent of Americans agreed Washington should provide weapons to Ukraine, compared to the 46 percent support for weapon shipments in May.

Horne argued that those opposed to Ukraine aid on Capitol Hill still represent a minority.

“There is still strong bipartisan support for Ukraine economic and security assistance on the Hill. And I think you’ll find most Republicans understand both what’s at stake from a geopolitical and national security standpoint, but also from a moral standpoint,” she said.

Biden’s campaign is likely to link the House GOP dysfunction to former President Trump, Biden’s likely opponent in 2024. In this way, even if the chaos is a problem for parts of Biden’s agenda, it could help him win reelection.

“It may threaten Biden’s policy priorities but it doesn’t threaten his re-elect chances,” said Jim Kessler, a co-founder of the centrist thinktank Third Way. “From Jan. 6 to today, congressional Republicans have been weaving a tapestry of chaos and insanity. Should Trump be at the top of the ticket, they will complete the project.”

“In the end, I expect there will be a deal that funds Ukraine and more border security. But along the way, Republicans are shattering the china. It gets noticed at election time,” Kessler added.

Democratic strategist Jamaal Simmons also said Democrats can use the split screen of House chaos while Biden forgives $9 billion in student loans to its advantage and Democrats swear in a new senator from California to replace the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

“The disarray in the House clarifies the argument for Democrats,” he said. “The split screen was stark. On one side, Democrats were participating in calm and focused governing— orderly transitions of power in the Senate, orderly policymaking in the White House. Then in the House, the Republican majority was at war with itself.”

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