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What does a change in House speaker mean for Ukraine aid?

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What does a change in House speaker mean for Ukraine aid?

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The future of aid to Ukraine hangs in the balance as House Republicans debate who will be their next speaker. 

The selection of a successor to former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy will play a big role in funding the U.S. provides to Ukraine. The White House and many lawmakers want additional funding to be passed while Congress will be hammering out its spending bills to avoid a mid-November government shutdown. But for now, Congress is paralyzed without an elected speaker.

Ukraine has become an increasingly contentious issue in the Republican conference, where hardline conservatives hold outsized sway. Over the weekend, the House passed a measure to temporarily fund the government until mid-November, but only after Republicans dropped $6 billion in Ukraine aid.

After McCarthy was ousted Tuesday, President Biden expressed concern over the future of aid to Ukraine, and said he plans to make a “major speech” on Ukraine at a yet-to-be-announced date. The president did not directly answer how much longer the U.S. can fund Ukraine without additional authority from Congress. 

“It does worry me, but I know there are a majority of members of the House and Senate in both parties who have said that they support funding Ukraine,” Mr. Biden said of future Ukraine aid after hardline Republicans and the Democratic caucus voted to oust McCarthy, the first time in history a House speaker has been removed.  

Although a majority of lawmakers may support Ukraine funding, that might not mean much if the next speaker opts not to bring a vote on Ukraine funding to the House floor. 

GOP Rep. Jim Jordan, who announced his candidacy Wednesday, has cast doubt on prioritizing new funding for Ukraine. 

Asked whether he’d put a Ukraine package on the floor if he’s elected speaker, he replied, “I’m against that,” and added that “the most pressing issue on Americans’ minds is not Ukraine, it’s the border situation and crime on the streets,” he told reporters Wednesday. “So let’s address those.”

Republicans for Ukraine, a pro-Ukraine project of the conservative nonprofit group Defending Democracy Together, gave Jordan an “F” on its congressional report card on his overall support of Ukraine, noting that in six votes for Ukraine aid, he supported only the first and voted no on the rest.

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, another declared contender for speaker, hasn’t been particularly vocal on Ukraine lately. But he has supported Ukraine aid with some of his votes, including a vote late week in favor of a $300 million Ukraine funding package. The supplemental package ultimately fell through. Scalise received a “B” grade on the Republicans for Ukraine report card, having voted three times in favor of aid and three times against. 

When Zelenskyy visited Washington in December, Scalise suggested taxpayers are concerned about where Ukraine aid is going. 

“There’s concern that the money’s going to the places that it’s intended. Having any taxpayer dollars that go anywhere, whether it’s domestically or abroad, deserves scrutiny,” Scalise said after the Ukrainian president’s visit, adding that he raised the topic of transparency and accountability with Zelenskyy. 

But Republicans’ infighting about Ukraine comes at a critical time, as Ukraine fights back against Russia’s invasion. U.S. officials have warned that winter could bring renewed onslaughts from Russian President Vladimir Putin. And North Korea has begun transferring artillery to Russia, bolstering Moscow’s supplies, a U.S. official told CBS News earlier this week.

“The good news is basically we can probably support Ukraine the way we’ve been supporting Ukraine for the next couple months, but then the money’s gone,” and the president can’t give Ukraine the ammunition and supplies it will desperately need, said Max Bergmann, director of the Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Without U.S. assistance, Ukraine could run out of ammunition in the dead of winter, he said. If Ukrainians can’t rely on being resupplied with air defense munitions, then they will have to choose between protecting their population and protecting troops on the front lines, he said. “And that means a lot of Ukrainians are likely going to die.” 

“The House not passing a Ukraine supplemental, let’s be clear, has tragic consequences for Ukraine — it’ll cost a lot of lives and be incredibly costly for the reconstruction of Ukraine … worst of all, it may potentially turn the tide of war,” Bergmann said.  

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited members of Congress in person last month as the House and Senate were debating a spending agreement, thanking them for their support but expressing how vital continued U.S. support is to Ukraine’s success. McCarthy said there was not enough time for Zelenskky to give a joint address to Congress, as Zelenskyy did in December 2022, a signal of fracturing support in the GOP conference. 

When Zelenzkky visited last month, Mr. Biden acknowledged there is little he can do to support Ukraine financially in the future without the support of Congress. 

“I’m counting on the good judgment of the United States Congress,” the president said at the time. “There’s no alternative.”

The president told reporters Wednesday there may be another way to assist Ukraine financially without additional support from Congress, but he didn’t elaborate. 

“We can support Ukraine in the next tranche that we need,” Mr. Biden told reporters Wednesday. “And there is another means by which we may be able to find funding for that. But I’m not going to get into that now.” 

The White House has not yet said when the president will deliver his Ukraine address. 

For now, no funding for Ukraine — or for anything else — can pass the House. Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick McHenry has limited authority in what he can do until a new speaker is elected. 

The U.S. has already given approximately $113 billion in security, humanitarian and economic assistance to Ukraine since Russia’s war began. 

Waning support for Ukraine among some Republicans in Congress reflects waning support among Republican voters, more than a year-and-a-half after Russia launched its assault. 

Among Republicans, 56% said the Biden administration should be doing less to help Ukraine, compared to 15% of Democrats who said the administration should be doing less, according to a September CBS News poll

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