Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky‘s second trip to Washington is being overshadowed by the prospect of a federal government shutdown as House Republicans disagree over spending, including funding for Ukraine.
Regardless of the 78th U.N. General Assembly, Congress‘s focus is “elsewhere” amid the likelihood of a shutdown from Oct. 1, according to former deputy national security adviser and Heritage Foundation Vice President for National Security and Foreign Policy Victoria Coates.
The Heritage Foundation, whose policy recommendations many House Republicans heed, has called on President Joe Biden to outline a “clear strategy” regarding what he is prepared to commit to Ukraine and what he expects from European allies, considering U.S. taxpayers are collectively the war’s largest financiers, making the country a target of Russian reprisals, and administration officials have leaked their concerns with Ukraine’s approach.
But in an interview, Coates underscored that Ukraine is “important” and the amount the White House and Senate Republicans are seeking is a “comparatively” small expense compared to the rest of the federal budget.
“If [Biden] had laid out a year ago a strategy of ‘we will match dollar-for-dollar contributions from all NATO members,’ the EU and the U.S. economies are roughly equivalent, that would have been appropriate,” Coates told the Washington Examiner.
“I’m not an admirer of [Russian President] Vladimir Putin, so I could be open to additional funding, but it’s very hard for me to recommend conservatives vote ‘yes’ on this right now because the president did not take the opportunity yesterday, for example, to lay out a plan for victory,” she said of Biden’s U.N. General Assembly address.
For Brookings Institution foreign policy research director Michael O’Hanlon, Zelensky’s trip Thursday is “a brilliant and timely moment for a visit and speech.”
“President Zelensky is an astute observer of American politics,” O’Hanlon said. “He knows exactly where we are in our budget debate — and he knows he needs our help — and he also knows we need his, and Ukraine’s, to face down Russian aggression.”
Biden is anticipated to announce another aid package Thursday, though Ukraine is unlikely to receive the army tactical missile systems it has specifically requested. Ukraine has reasserted control over parts of the Black Sea, but Russia still occupies roughly one-fifth of the country.
Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, CIA Director Bill Burns, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley previewed Zelensky’s trip during a Senate briefing Wednesday night.
Supplementing his sit-downs at the White House, Zelensky is scheduled to meet with lawmakers, including House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), behind closed doors Thursday, days after he dismissed all six of his deputy defense ministers in response to corruption allegations. Zelensky’s itinerary can be contrasted to his agenda last December, which incorporated an address to a joint session of Congress.
House Republicans last week opposed a White House and Senate Republican proposal to pass a $24 billion Ukraine aid supplemental measure with a short-term continuing budget resolution. The United States has sent $113 billion to Ukraine since the start of the war in February 2022.
“Is Zelensky elected to Congress? Is he our president? I don’t think I have to commit anything, and I think I have questions for him,” McCarthy said Tuesday. “Where’s the accountability on the money we’ve already spent? What is the plan for victory? I think that’s what the American public wants to know.”
The White House last week declined to publicly advise Zelensky concerning his House Republican outreach, downplaying anxiety related to the future of Ukraine funding.
“I had the chance to sit with the leadership, Democratic and Republican, in the Senate, the leadership and the chairs and rankings of the major national security committees,” national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters last Friday. “I had the chance to sit with the Democratic and Republican leadership in the House and the chairs and ranking members of the key committees.”
“In those conversations, I felt the basic vibe, so to speak, the idea that the United States needs to come together on a bipartisan basis to support Ukraine, felt as strong as it did a year ago on both sides of the aisle,” he said. “Of course, I acknowledge that there’s a difference between this Congress and the last Congress. We’ll have to contend with that as we go through the discussions that will continue in the days ahead on how to get Ukraine the resources it needs.”
Biden and Zelensky both addressed the General Assembly the day before, each trying to rally a war-fatigued world to support Ukraine’s effort and assist in isolating Russia.
“Russia believes that the world will grow weary and allow it to brutalize Ukraine without consequence,” Biden said. “But I ask you this: If we abandon the core principles of the [U.N. Charter] to appease an aggressor, can any member state in this body feel confident that they are protected?”
“If we allow Ukraine to be carved up, is the independence of any nation secure?” he added.