Nov 14, 2022 - Politics & Policy

First look: Conservative groups lobby against lame-duck Ukraine aid

Illustration of the "no" symbol with the colors of the Ukrainian flag.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

A coalition of more than a dozen powerful conservative groups is pressing lawmakers to delay consideration of any additional aid to Ukraine until the new Congress is sworn in next year, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: It's an early indication of the pressure Republicans are expected to face from some of their most influential grassroots allies to use a House majority as a bulwark against the flow of American aid money to Ukraine.

Driving the news: In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) obtained by Axios, the conservative groups urged the House leaders "not to rush through another large assistance package for Ukraine during the lame-duck session."

  • "Any new aid package to Ukraine should be thoroughly debated, examined, and voted on in the 118th Congress," they wrote.
  • The organizations represented in the letter include Americans for Prosperity, the Heritage Foundation, FreedomWorks, Conservative Partnership Institute, America First Policy Institute and several groups within the Koch network.

The big picture: The letter specifically targets a potential aid package in the lame-duck session but represents the broader and growing opposition to Ukraine aid embodied by the "America First" foreign policy sentiment promoted by the conservative grassroots.

  • It argues that sending more aid "disregards the fiscal constraints facing this country," that other NATO allies aren't contributing their fair share and that the Biden administration hasn't set clear enough end goals for the war.
  • "We understand the desire to help the people of Ukraine. They are the victims of a brutal and immoral Russian invasion," it says. "However, do not negate the responsibility of the United States Congress to place American interests first and foremost when shaping U.S. foreign policy."

The backdrop: Republicans in Congress have been souring on the idea of approving more aid to Ukraine, raising the specter of stinginess from GOP leadership despite ongoing support from many members of the conference, Axios reported last month.

  • The erosion in support from lawmakers correlates with a growing sentiment against aid among Republican voters in opinion polls.
  • In contrast with his Senate counterpart, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has suggested that Ukraine wouldn't get a "blank check" if his party controlled the House.

Yes, but: The results of last Tuesday's midterms were a blow to candidates who are solidly in the isolationist wing of the party.

  • Many House candidates who voiced opposition to Ukraine aid, such as John Gibbs of Michigan, Karoline Leavitt of New Hampshire and J.R. Majewski of Ohio, lost their races after underperforming more establishment Republicans.
  • It wasn't a total loss, however: two senators who have been firm supporters of Ukraine aid, Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), are set to be replaced by Republicans who have expressed far greater skepticism.

What they're saying: Incoming House Republicans who spoke with Axios expressed a diverse array of opinions on Ukraine funding.

  • "I don't think there's any problem with raising questions about oversight or accountability or whether or not the Biden administration has a plan," said Mike Lawler of New York, "But I think we need to continue to support Ukraine."
  • Zach Nunn of Iowa said in an interview: "One of the greatest national security threats to the United States is what's happening at our Southern border. ... So before you start asking for more money, show up for work, do your job."
  • "Personally, I don't think that we should be funding Ukraine," said Cory Mills of Florida.
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