With Republicans officially taking the House, supporters of Ukraine have reason to be concerned.
At the start of Russia’s attack on Ukraine, the vast majority of GOP lawmakers joined Democrats in condemning the invasion. In fact, many Republicans criticized the Biden administration for not doing more to assist Kyiv. As the war has stretched on, however, sentiment in the party has shifted: 48 percent of Republicans now say the U.S. is doing too much for Ukraine, compared to 6 percent in March. And the erosion, likely stemming from the kind of Ukraine-skeptical rhetoric among some on the right, is seeping into Capitol Hill. A growing number of congressional Republicans are now voting against aid to Ukraine or pledging to do so. The pressure to vote against Ukraine may only rise if the U.S. hits a deep recession in the coming months.
Kevin McCarthy, likely the next speaker of the House, has expressed misgivings about writing Ukraine a “blank check.” But Republicans don’t have to — and shouldn’t —make open-ended pledges. What’s needed is proper oversight of Ukraine aid, a renewed commitment from our allies and a reality check on the global threats facing the United States.
Here’s how to sustain and build support for Ukraine within the GOP.
First, House Republican supporters of Ukraine should announce Ukraine war oversight plans immediately. At first glance, such a move might be perceived as being hostile to Ukraine assistance. But Republicans need to be able to look taxpayers in the eye and say they voted for aid knowing it had unprecedented oversight.
Republicans have rightly been deeply skeptical of President Joe Biden’s conduct of foreign affairs since the botched Afghanistan withdrawal and need to be assured that the Biden administration has a plan beyond weapons transfers. Republicans should be against open-ended commitments, subsidies for broken international agencies and funding that constitutes nation-building. This should satisfy anyone concerned about handing a “blank check” to Ukraine. Holding the Biden administration accountable doesn’t have to mean cutting aid to Ukraine; it’s a way for Republicans to be good stewards of tax dollars while at the same time ensuring the funds are spent efficiently and effectively.
Second, Republicans need to be convinced that Europe is a true partner, and the news is often not reassuring. Recently POLITICO reported that an EU reimbursement fund designed to replace weapons shipped to Ukraine is woefully underfunded and has not made its first disbursement. The European Commission is also struggling to make good on commitments to help Ukraine with direct budget support. Failures to aid Ukraine reinforce the common view in Washington that some Europeans are free riders under the U.S. security umbrella.
Specific concerns usually arise regarding Germany, the EU’s largest economy. Too often, it appears Germany is saying the right things but not providing enough in tangible support. For example, Germany recently reneged on its pledge to give Ukraine Leopard 2 tanks and Marder infantry fighting vehicles. As Lithuania’s foreign minister put it, “Tanks speak louder than words.”
After the new Congress convenes, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz should come to Washington to reassure skeptics that Germany is committed to Ukraine and that Germany will meet its NATO defense commitments. This would help renew a U.S.-German partnership and reaffirm ties amidst a dangerous geopolitical climate. At the same time, Republicans should try and meet the Germans half-way by acknowledging that the German policy of “change through trade” — theoretically pushing Russia to liberalize because of closer economic ties — has begun to change for the better. Because of a self-described “epochal shift” in thinking, the Germans have begun to accept that their Russia policy was too much trade and not enough change. By noting Germany’s progress, the U.S. will have more credibility to push harder for tangible action to support Ukraine and fund their own security.
Third, pro-Ukraine Republicans should make the case to their colleagues that countering Russia can deal a geopolitical defeat to its “friendship without limits” partner China. These determined U.S. adversaries have a shared goal: to weaken the U.S. and the post-World War II system built on freedom, economic openness and democracy. According to the U.S. intelligence community, China and Russia are “more aligned than at any point since the mid-1950s.” A loss for Russia is a loss for China.
The Biden administration can also build support for Ukraine by convincing Congress that it is taking China’s threats to take over Taiwan seriously. Some Republicans are naturally suspicious of the Russians but view China as the preeminent threat and want more action from the White House. While the Biden administration’s official National Security Strategy finds that China is “America’s most consequential geopolitical challenge,” there is no accompanying call for additional resources. The administration can cure this defect by making an alliance with the most unlikely congressional allies in the conservative Republican Study Committee. The RSC fiscal 2023 budget supported the Pacific Deterrence Initiative and other unfunded priorities critical to our military posture in Asia. If Biden steps up in Asia, he can help consolidate Republican support for Ukraine.
The Ukrainians have the Russians on the run and need more time and arms to finish the job.
American taxpayers have been generous with Ukraine, and as we ask more of them, it’s perfectly appropriate for congressional Republicans to use their oversight powers. Congress is also right to ask more of our allies and to press the administration on its Ukrainian policy and for safeguards against waste and abuse. Doing so could boost support for Ukraine on Capitol Hill and with the broader public.
Congress should stand firm against Vladimir Putin and show that the democratic West has toughness and resolve in the face of geopolitical foes. This is the first war of the new great power competition with Russia and China. It’s too important to lose.