Zelensky visit shows McCarthy walks ‘thin line’ on Ukraine aid

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy publicly snubbed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy during a visit to Washington on Thursday, rejecting the wartime leader’s request to address Congress, but that’s not all.

Mr. McCarthy’s supporters say he remains committed to delivering arms to Ukraine, despite growing skepticism within his caucus. And Zelenskiy said the chairman delivered a similar message in a private meeting on Thursday.

Mr. Zelensky’s visit underscored the balancing act Mr. McCarthy faces on Ukraine, especially amid a broader spending battle that has exposed deep divisions within his narrow majority. .

Bill Monahan, senior policy director at Foreign Policy for America, said McCarthy walks a “fine line” between supporting Ukraine and appeasing a growing number of House Republicans disillusioned with the war. He said that

“He wants to support Ukraine, but he has to.” [address] “This faction is kind of disrupting U.S. policy,” Monahan said. “I think he’s trying to keep his eye on what’s really important, which is the additional Ukraine game. He’s trying to rally bipartisan support for that.”

But Mr. Monahan argued that if Mr. McCarthy continues to shelve the Ukraine issue, he could give more leverage to skeptical House Republicans.

“This is still a very vocal minority, but that number is likely to grow,” he says. “Mr. McCarthy will have to step up his efforts to make the case for this aid and its far-reaching national security implications.”

During a visit to the Capitol on Thursday, Zelenskiy addressed the majority of the Senate but met only with a bipartisan group of senior leaders from the House of Representatives.

Mr. McCarthy denied Mr. Zelenskyy the chance to jointly address Congress on the grounds that there was a “lack of time,” effectively making it impossible for Mr. Zelenskyy to even attempt to persuade House critics to approve additional aid. blocked.

Still, Mr. McCarthy appears to have had a positive meeting with Mr. Zelensky. The two posed for a photo, and Mr. Zelensky himself said that Mr. McCarthy expressed support for future aid to Ukraine.

President Zelenskiy: “The day started with a very frank and detailed conversation with parliament in the Reichstag.” said in a video message Posted on X. “I felt trust.”

Meanwhile, Mr. McCarthy told reporters on Thursday that he had often discussed concerns with Mr. Zelensky about accountability regarding U.S. weapons and battlefield deployments.

Rep. Gregory Meeks of New York, ranking member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said Mr. McCarthy asked the question to convince his colleagues that the war in Ukraine was winnable. According to the New York Times.

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chairman of the House committee, said the Zelensky talks went well and said he expected the majority to support a different Ukraine policy despite the House’s skepticism. he said.

But McCall said supporters need to do a better job of making the case for why supporting Ukraine is important.

“We need to explain why this is a national security issue and that whatever happens in Ukraine directly affects Taiwan,” McCaul told reporters. “This is a big power struggle between Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and the West.”

It could be a tough battle. Ahead of President Zelenskiy’s visit, more than 20 Republican members of Congress sent a letter to President Biden expressing their opposition to further aid to Ukraine.

For now, aid to Ukraine has been put on the back burner as the House of Representatives is unable to agree on a government spending bill. And Mr. McCarthy seems unwilling to make Ukraine a priority or show more public enthusiasm on the issue.

Asked about including funding for Ukraine in the continuing resolution after the Zelenskiy meeting, McCarthy was reluctant, stressing that there were other priorities that needed immediate funding, such as border issues.

“I’m willing to consider that,” he told reporters about aid to Ukraine. ?I think we have priorities.? ”

Jordan Cohen, a defense and foreign policy analyst at the conservative Cato Institute, said Mr. McCarthy has shown support for Ukraine, but only as long as it doesn’t threaten his chairmanship.

If Mr. McCarthy had allowed Mr. Zelensky to speak to Congress, he would have made a “very clear statement” that he supports Ukraine, potentially infuriating conservative members of the House Freedom Caucus who oppose further aid. There would have been.

“Mr. McCarthy has bigger things he wants to accomplish as a speaker that have nothing to do with Ukraine,” Cohen said. “He doesn’t want Zelenskiy to just shut up and pretend he doesn’t exist because, again, I think fundamentally McCarthy probably wants to get that help.

“More than that, Mr. McCarthy doesn’t want to lose his chair. Not losing his chair means continuing to support the Freedom Caucus,” he added.

Even a small amount of aid to Ukraine is already a big issue in the House. McCarthy said Friday he would remove $300 million for Ukraine from the defense spending bill and instead hold a separate vote on the funds.

The move may be aimed at placating critics who voted against the defense spending bill on Thursday. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) was among the lawmakers who opposed the bill because of its inclusion of aid to Ukraine.

Mr. McCarthy’s position increasingly contrasts with the Senate, where a majority of members fully support continued aid to Ukraine.

To emphasize the dire need for support for Ukraine, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York quoted Mr. Zelensky. in his statement After the meeting, he said, “If we don’t get aid, we will lose the war.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) also strongly supports Ukraine. he emphasized after Zelenskyy’s meetingsaid that Ukraine aid is not charity but an investment in “our own direct interests” and national security.

Cohen, of the Cato Institute, said concerned House Republicans have legitimate questions about aid to Ukraine, including how the Biden administration’s goal of completing the endgame in Ukraine These include how more funding would help, and increasing transparency in arms transfers.

But Cohen explained that with clear answers to these questions, McCarthy has a chance to engage his critics.

“In the long run, that could be a McCarthy situation.” [skeptical] “House Republicans don’t necessarily have to support aid to Ukraine, but they should not jeopardize his chairmanship because of it,” Cohen said.

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