Updated Oct 21, 2022 - Politics & Policy

GOP congressional leaders split on Ukraine aid

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

Left: Mitch McConnell; Right: Kevin McCarthy. Photos: Anna Moneymaker, Eric Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Friday called for "additional air defenses, long-range fires, and humanitarian and economic support" to Ukraine in the wake of ongoing Russian attacks.

Why it matters: The pronouncement represents McConnell's latest break with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who signaled earlier this week that a Republican-controlled House wouldn't write a "blank check" to Ukraine.

What they're saying: McConnell said in a statement, "The Biden Administration and our allies need to do more to supply the tools Ukraine needs to thwart Russian aggression," including "additional" aid.

  • The Kentucky Republican called on the White House and the West to "be quicker and more proactive to get Ukraine the aid they need," specifically calling on NATO allies "step up to the plate."
  • "For our part, the United States Congress has funded and approved ongoing aid on an overwhelming bipartisan basis," he said, urging that the aid be "expedited."

What caught our eye: McConnell said a Republican Senate majority "will focus its oversight on ensuring timely delivery of needed weapons and greater allied assistance to Ukraine."

The backdrop: McConnell's statement comes two weeks before the midterm elections, in which Republicans are hopeful they can flip both chambers of Congress.

  • "I think people are gonna be sitting in a recession and they’re not going to write a blank check to Ukraine. They just won’t do it," McCarthy recently told Punchbowl News.
  • He doubled down during a subsequent CNBC interview, saying, "I think Ukraine is very important. I support making sure that we move forward to defeat Russia in that program. But there should be no blank check on anything."

The other side: President Biden during remarks Friday reaffirmed support for Ukraine and alluded to McCarthy's remarks: "I don’t understand the threat that they’re saying they may have to stop funding the Ukrainians in their war against this brutal dictator.”

Between the lines: House Republicans have been souring on Ukraine aid in recent months as the war has ground on — a departure from the broad bipartisan consensus on aid at the outset of the war — with even some GOP members supportive of aid telling Axios they've noticed the shift in sentiment.

  • A big Republican win could serve to exacerbate that trend, with GOP candidates in swing seats like Karoline Leavitt, Sam Peters and J.R. Majewski voicing strong opposition to future aid packages.
  • That view is not exclusive among House candidates, however: Republican Senate candidates Blake Masters, J.D. Vance and Don Bolduc have all been critical of Ukraine aid.

What we're watching: Democrats and the White House may opt to add a sizable Ukraine aid package to the already lengthy list of tasks they want to get done in the period between the Nov. 8 election and the start of the next Congress in January.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify that McCarthy, not McConnell, spoke with Punchbowl News.

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