Ukrainian forces are rationing ammunition. Still, Republicans in the House of Representatives plan to take weeks to consider more aid

(J Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

Ukrainian forces are rationing ammunition. Still, Republicans in the House of Representatives plan to take weeks to consider more aid



March 2, 2024

Ukrainian drones fly without ammunition. Russian artillery fires deadly salvos from safe positions beyond the reach of Kiev troops. Shortages of ammunition and supplies are causing Moscow to lose ground, US congressional leaders have warned, yet the Republican-controlled House has shown little haste to supply Ukraine with military aid.

Across Washington, officials are watching the drop in munitions shipments with increasing concern. It has now been more than two months since the US, which has emerged as the Arsenal of Democracy since World War II, last sent military supplies to Ukraine.

But House Speaker Mike Johnson appears determined to chart his own course away from a Senate-passed $95 billion foreign aid package, a decision that could delay the package for weeks after an already difficult months-long waiting in Congress.

With U.S. military transports halted, Ukrainian troops withdrew last month from the eastern city of Avdiivka, where outnumbered defenders had held off a Russian attack for four months. Delays in military support from the West complicate the task of Kiev’s military tacticians, forcing troops to ration ammunition and ultimately costing the lives of Ukrainian soldiers.

“If Ukraine gets the help, they will win. If they don’t get the help, they will lose, with dire consequences for the United States,” said Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who recently visited Ukraine.

Defense officials are discussing options, including possibly tapping into existing stockpiles before Congress approves funding to replenish them, according to Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. And at a meeting at the White House this week, President Biden, the top two Democrats in Congress and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky took turns intensely urging Johnson to pass a Senate-passed package that would provide Kiev with $60 billion worth of aid. .

So far, the Republican speaker has refused.

The Republican from Louisiana is only four months into the powerful job as speaker, second in


The line to the presidency is under great pressure from all sides. The leaders of 23 European parliaments have signed an open letter urging him to approve the aid. And within his own ranks in the House of Representatives, senior Republicans are growing uneasy about the inaction, even as other far-right members have threatened to try to remove him from leadership if he promotes aid to Kiev.

The House is actively considering options on a path forward, but our first responsibility is funding the government and our primary, overriding responsibility, which has been securing the border for three years, Johnson said at a news conference.

Johnson responded to the pressure on Ukraine by saying the House of Representatives had not received the funding legislation until mid-February, after the Senate took four months to negotiate, including on enforcement policies at the US-Mexico border. The border security deal quickly collapsed after Republicans, including Johnson, criticized the proposal as insufficient. Still, Johnson and other Republicans in the House of Representatives hope to secure some policy victories on border security again.

When Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited Congress late last year, he told Johnson that military aid would last until February. But as Congress began in March, Johnson has so far allowed members of the House of Representatives to formulate their own proposals and has revealed little about his plans for the package.

After the timeframe this should have taken, this analysis and careful consideration by the House of Representatives should have been completed before the end of the year or very soon after the new year, said Representative French Hill, an Arkansas Republican.

Hill and several other senior Republicans are pressuring Johnson to act by drafting a new national security package in the House of Representatives. That bill, which is being drafted by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul and key appropriators, is expected to be less than the $95 billion Senate package but will contain many similar provisions, including money that Ukraine, Israel and allies of could use the Indo-Pacific region to purchase US military equipment, as well as some humanitarian aid.

It could also include a version of the Rebuilding Economic Prosperity and Opportunity for Ukrainians, or REPO Act, which would allow the US to tap frozen assets of Russia’s central bank to compensate Ukraine for damage from the invasion, Hill said. He said it would save taxpayers money in the long run and help win Republican votes in the House of Representatives.

This is more a matter of figuring out how to move forward, said veteran Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), the Rules Committee chairman. But a substantial majority of both houses of Congress want to help Ukraine. You had seventy votes there, he said of the Senate’s robust support, and the vote here will be well over three hundred.

Rep. Annie Kuster of New Hampshire, who leads a caucus of centrist Democrats called New Dems, said many in her party are willing to help Johnson pass a military aid package if he brings it up. But she said the bill already passed by the Senate would have the broadest support.

We are currently at a pivotal moment and I encourage Speaker Johnson to work with us, Kuster said. He has such a small majority.

Meanwhile, any decision by the Pentagon to send weapons to Ukraine before Congress approves the funding is fraught with risks. With no money to replenish the equipment and weapons shipped, the Army would deplete its supplies and potentially risk affecting units’ combat readiness.

In addition, there are concerns that Pentagon action could prevent Congress from moving quickly on the funding bill.

Reed said it would make more sense for Congress to approve the additional package because the Pentagon would then be able to immediately order the equipment it needs to remove. Without that, we run the risk of scrapping the equipment and not being able to replace it or have confidence in replacement.

Groves and Mascaro are reporters for the Associated Press.


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