Updated Feb 16, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Navalny's death electrifies Capitol Hill debate over Ukraine

Speaker Mike Johnson, wearing a blue suit, white shirt, red tie and glasses, stands in front of microphones flanked by Reps. Mike Turner and Jim Himes.

Speaker Mike Johnson. Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images.

The death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny on Friday has added fuel to an already blazing fight in Congress over aid to Ukraine amid its ongoing war with Russia.

Why it matters: Military aid to Ukraine and other U.S. allies is stalled in the House due to persistent opposition from Republican hardliners.

The latest: Navalny, who exposed corruption by Russian President Vladimir Putin, collapsed while walking in an Arctic penal colony where he was serving a 30-year prison sentence, according to Russia's prison service.

  • Navalny's allies had warned that the harsh conditions he faced and Putin's history of targeting him and other dissidents put his life at risk.

What they're saying: "This is not a moment for platitudes and empty promises. It is a time to choose," House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said in a statement.

  • Jeffries called on House Republicans to "join us in urgently passing comprehensive national security legislation to support Ukraine and our other democratic allies throughout the world."
  • Some Republicans echoed the sentiment. "Isolationists may wish to look away, but a Russian victory in Ukraine would exponentially increase the likelihood of a larger war in Europe," said Rep. Larry Bucshon (R-Ind.).

Yes, but: Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), who has refused to hold a vote on a Senate bill with $60 billion for Ukraine, walked a careful line in his statement: "In the coming days ... we must be clear that Putin will be met with united opposition."

  • "As Congress debates the best path forward to support Ukraine, the United States, and our partners, must be using every means available to cut off Putin's ability to fund his unprovoked war in Ukraine and aggression against the Baltic states," he added.
  • Republican foes of Ukraine aid shot back: "Perhaps I get more fired up about what's going on in America not because I believe it's worse than Russia or any other country, but because it's my home," said Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio).

Between the lines: A bipartisan group of House members on Friday unveiled a $66 billion foreign aid bill that includes $47.7 billion Ukraine military aid.

  • The bill pairs the aid with strict border policy provisions aimed at appealing to GOP hardliners who have killed other national security bills.

What we're hearing: Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), one of the leaders in the effort, noted Tucker Carlson's recent trip to Russia to interview Putin.

  • Navalny's death is "a reminder that Putin's Russia is not really Tucker's paradise," Bacon said.
  • "Some are under a false delusion about Putin and Russia, and hopefully this reveals the hard reality," Bacon added.

Go deeper: Putin critic Alexei Navalny has died, Russia's prison service says

Editor's note: This story was updated with additional developments.

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