The United States currently is forced to send "smaller aid packages to Ukraine in order to stretch out support, given a stalemate in Congress over providing funding for Ukraine", according to a statement by White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre last week.
President Joe Biden has submitted to Congress a new package of nearly $105 billion for aid to Ukraine, Israel, and US border security. Now, the question of further American assistance to Ukraine depends largely on the decision of the House of Representatives, which has just returned to work, after having elected Republican Trump supporter Mike Johnson as Speaker.
Johnson, one of the most conservative politicians even among Republicans, has consistently voted against aid to Ukraine other than via the Lend-Lease programme.
It's not surprising that Johnson refuses to consider Biden's proposal and plans to split the aid between Ukraine and Israel.
What are the prospects for support for Ukraine in the House on the part of the new leadership?
With Israel or separately?
Even though the majority in the House of Representatives is still willing to vote for military and financial aid to Ukraine, it is the Speaker who determines which bills will be brought up for consideration in the House, and when.
Therefore, the fate of aid to Ukraine will depend largely on Johnson. Shortly after taking office, Johnson somewhat softened his rhetoric. Despite his previous voting record, in discussions with Republican senators, he stated that he is willing to consider aid to Ukraine.
"We can't allow Vladimir Putin to prevail in Ukraine because I don't believe he would stop there. A Russian victory in Ukraine would embolden not only Russia, but also China in its stance on Taiwan," Johnson said in an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity.
However, Johnson insisted on separating the aid packages for Ukraine and Israel, contrary to the plans of Biden and both Democratic and Republican senators. The House of Representatives has passed its own bill for aid to Israel without including aid to Ukraine and sent it to the Senate.
In private conversations, Johnson argues that aid for Ukraine needs to be separated from that for Israel because a combined package would not receive support from his fellow party members.
Among Republicans in the House, aid to Israel encounters much less resistance than aid to Ukraine.
Nevertheless, Johnson has promised to introduce a separate bill for funding Ukraine.
Additional Risks for Ukraine
The problem may not only be the decision to consider the aid packages for the two countries separately. Any potential conditions that Republicans might want to attach to the funding of support for Ukraine may be unacceptable to Democrats.
The aid package for Israel that has already been approved in the House is a good example.
It was "dead on arrival" in the Senate, where Democrats hold the majority, and it has no chance of passing. The issue is not just the absence of aid for Ukraine in that bill, although Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic majority leader, and Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican minority leader, have repeatedly insisted on a combined package.
"We need to treat all four of these areas, all four of them: Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan and the border," McConnell believes.
In order to fund aid to Israel, House Republicans have decided to reallocate approximately $14 billion from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). "We want to protect and help and assist our friend Israel, but we have to keep our own house in order as well," Johnson said. "And I think people at home, the American people, understand that."
Additional IRS funding is one of Biden’s important legislative achievements. Furthermore, reallocating funds from the revenue service would cost the government $26.8 billion in lost tax revenue, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projected.
In its current form, the Senate will not pass the package,
and Biden has threatened to veto it. Johnson has said that aid to Ukraine would be tied to additional funding for security on the US-Mexico border, where thousands of migrants enter the country illegally. "It's just a matter of principle that we, if we're going to take care of a border in Ukraine we need to take care of America's border as well," he said at a press conference on 2 November.
Border security is one of the Republicans’ main electoral promises. By linking this issue to aid to Ukraine, Johnson hopes to find support, or at least avoid opposition, from the most radical members of Congress in his party. While not all Democrats share the view that additional border security funding will solve the migration crisis, they are still willing to compromise on it. Biden's package ultimately includes enhancements to border security.
The question will be the size of such funding and other conditions attached to the package. The aid to Israel passed by the House shows that Johnson is willing (or perhaps required, in order to maintain control over his party) to push for significant demands.
Options for Ukraine
Currently, Senate Republicans and Democrats are working on a new bipartisan aid package that will include assistance to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, as well as enhanced security on the southern US border—similar to what Biden proposed, but likely with more funding for border security.
It is not clear whether the Senate will approve a comprehensive package, but it is certain that Democrats will not accept all of the Republican demands. House Republicans are also unlikely to decide on Ukraine's funding without concessions from the Democrats.
The question of whether aid to Ukraine will be considered alongside aid to Israel or separately is less important than the conditions Republicans will place on their support.
Effectively, Ukraine (and to a lesser extent, Israel) has become a bargaining chip in bipartisan wrangling in the US.
Biden, Johnson, and Senate Republican leader McConnell will have to negotiate and find a compromise. Key indicators of their respective positions will be the aid package for Ukraine proposed in the House of Representatives and the comprehensive package in the Senate, where the parties will lay out their conditions and visions.
The situation is further complicated by the fact that in less than two weeks, the US government could run out of funding.
Amid discussions about aid to international partners, Congress will need to pass a budget, even if temporary. This will be the primary subject of disputes and bargaining between the parties.
When making any decisions, Johnson will look to the experience of his predecessor, Kevin McCarthy, who lost his position because he compromised with Democrats on budget issues without receiving the support of the majority of his party.
Upon assuming his new position, Johnson appeared to be less radical, at least in his rhetoric, than expected. However, the fate of aid to Ukraine depends on whether he can strike a balance between negotiating with Democrats and appeasing right-wing radicals within his own party.
The good news for Ukraine is that it still has strong allies in both parties who are ready to support the country. The bad news is the continued influence of right-wing Trumpists, whom Johnson will need to keep in check to avoid losing his position.
A student at Yale University, Yale Daily News reporter