The House of Representatives is playing out a Ukraine dynamic that UK voters might recognize from Brexit. After Theresa May’s gambit of snap elections backfired, she was left with a small majority in the House of Commons. The hard Brexit radicals, often called the Ultras, had more than enough votes in their solid bloc to deny May a majority. As Chris Grey was early to point out, their disproportionate power, their dogmatism, and relentless messaging enable the to refine what for the general public had been a Rorschach test Brexit into a very hard Brexit being normalized and then institutionalized.
Or rather, that’s one way to look at the picture, that the unfortunate thin Republican margin in the House has allowed a radical fringe to get its way. But another way to look at it is that this hard core is allowing all sort of factions that doubt the wisdom of continuing to support Project Ukraine to let them do the initial heavy lifting and see how to position themselves as events play out.
The fact that the drama of the nixing of more Ukraine funding in the short-term funding and now the defenestration of speaker Kevin McCarthy1 has also diverted attention from the fact that Senate Republicans ex Mitch McConnell are also cooling on more Ukraine spending.
Normally, the cynical view would be that of course the Ukraine 2023 funding that was stripped from the so-called continuing resolution will eventually be restored. But it is becoming more and more apparent that Ukraine is not winning proposition, literally and figuratively. A majority of voters oppose more funding. That poll was as of early August. Since then, more and more press organs have been forced to admit that the much-hyped Ukraine counteroffensive was a bust. As the movie General Patton said, in an opening monologue cobbled together from actual Patton speeches:
Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser. Americans play to win all the time. Now, I wouldn’t give a hoot in hell for a man who lost and laughed. That’s why Americans have never lost and will never lose a war. Because the very thought of losing is hateful to Americans.
Fortunately for us, or at least many in the political classes, it is Ukraine that is losing this war, but there is still an increasingly desperate-looking effort to either pretend Ukraine can win, or that Russia will let us have a peace with honor outcome which as we and others have pointed out is na ga happen.
Moreover, it isn’t as if voting against more Ukraine largesse that would necessarily lead to defense contractors pulling support from that particular Congresscritter. Admittedly, some might have product mixes that benefit more from a land war in Ukraine than a naval/air escalation against China. But the hawks have bigger martial ambitions than the arms merchants can satisfy, and the belligerent consensus is that China is the bigger priority, so writing off Ukraine sooner rather than later is probably not a terrible outcome for them.
Keep in mind that the immediate play is whether Biden can get a stand-alone bill for additional Ukraine funding for 2023 or get it included in the next “continuing resolution” bill or more permanent funding package, which has to be passed by November 17 to prevent a government shutdown. We had argued that the precedent of this defiance of the Administration and Republican grandees lowered the bar for it happening again. The ouster of McCarthy make getting more near-term dough for Ukraine even more fraught.
First from Bloomberg on the implications of McCarthy being forced out as Speaker:
Kevin McCarthy’s ouster as US House speaker plunged Congress into an internal power struggle as it faces key deadlines on avoiding a government shutdown and approving aid for Ukraine — all as the country hurtles toward a presidential election.
McCarthy lost his leadership post after hardliners in his own party revolted over his compromise with Democrats to avert a government shutdown last weekend. He said he won’t run again for speaker and hasn’t thought about resigning from Congress….
Goldman Sachs said in analysis for clients that the ouster raises the risk of a government shutdown next month. McCarthy’s successor will probably be under “even more pressure” to avoid a temporary funding package or additional funding for Ukraine, Goldman said.
From an op-ed at The Hill:
Whoever walks into the Speaker’s office will inherit the same harsh reality that led to McCarthy’s ouster. The only difference is that McCarthy’s successor will have even less negotiating leverage against a House Freedom Caucus capable of removing an uncooperative Speaker at will. That’s a lofty amount of power, and caucus member Rep. Matt Gaetz has proven he can wield it effectively, assisted by the GOP’s razor-thin House margin. Any future Speaker will in effect become one member of the Freedom Caucus’s politburo — or they’ll quickly find themselves exiting stage (far) right.
Mind you, some Republicans, particularly coup-meister Matt Gaetz, are unhappy that the voting on a replacement speaker won’t start until October 11. He’s wanted it done straight away. Another bone of contention among the harder-core House Republicans is the way McCarthy and his ally, House Judiciary Committee chair Jim Jordan, have been (in their eyes) slow-walking the Biden impeachment investigation. So the week delay in the Speaker vote is another week delay in turning the screws tighter on Biden.
Initial commentary, such as from the New York Times and Politico, depicts McCarthy as having pleased no one, taking moves to try to placate the hard-right faction that alienated the Democrats who could have rescued him.2
The focus on the House drama has meant other stories that describe how Congressional support for Ukraine is slipping are going unnoticed. For instance, from The Federalist, which Beltway-watchers tell me is good at reporting on Republican dynamics, in How Conservatives Quietly Outmaneuvered Weakened McConnell On Ukraine:
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell suffered a stunning blow this weekend when Republicans in the upper chamber disregarded his repeated calls for prioritizing Ukraine funding by passing the House GOP’s short-term spending bill, which included no provisions for the Volodymyr Zelensky regime.
Publicly, McConnell pretended his move to finance the proxy war in Ukraine was temporarily tabled for the convenience of avoiding an imminent government shutdown. Behind closed doors, the Senate minority leader’s plan to indefinitely send U.S. tax dollars to Eastern Europe was shunned by nearly every member of his party who expressed discomfort with hinging the fate of the government shutdown on Ukraine.
One source familiar with the situation told The Federalist that even McConnell quietly acknowledged to his colleagues that any spending bill that included Ukraine funding was not a winning issue for the party. Yet, he was so committed to putting another country’s financial well-being ahead of his own that he fought his own conference on it.
The Senate GOP’s defiance of McConnell was confirmed when they, at the urging of Senate GOP steering committee members like Sens. Mike Lee and Rick Scott, passed House Republicans’ continuing resolution (CR) instead of the Senate bill.
Note that another indicator of Ukraine’s sliding support are Matt Gaetz’s efforts to strip Ukraine funding entirely from 2024 Defense Department appropriations. From NBC five days ago, as in before both the continuing resolution passed without monies for Ukraine and the McCarthy defenestration:
An amendment to the defense funding bill by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., to prohibit all military assistance to Ukraine won 93 Republican votes Wednesday, as 126 Republicans and all 213 Democrats voted against it. That’s up from 70 Republicans who voted for a similar measure by Gaetz in July.
A separate amendment by Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., to slash $300 million in arms assistance for Ukraine — an allocation that has been the status quo since Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 — got 104 GOP votes, with 117 Republicans joining 213 Democrats to vote it down.
Where this funding fight wind up is anyone’s guess. But Ukraine looks to be en route to a serious diet.
1 For those interested in the House Ultras’ bill of particulars, from the New York Times:
Only a few of them rose on the House floor ahead of the vote to list their grievances against Mr. McCarthy, chief among them that he had relied on Democratic votes to push through two bills they opposed — one to prevent the nation from defaulting on its debt for the first time in history and another, over the weekend, to avert a government shutdown.
“The speaker fought through 15 votes in January to become speaker, but was only willing to fight through one failed C.R. before surrendering to the Democrats on Saturday,” Mr. Good said, referring to a measure known as a continuing resolution for a stopgap spending bill. “We need a speaker who will fight for something, anything besides just staying or becoming speaker.”
But their [House Democrats’] disdain for Mr. McCarthy ultimately overrode any political will they had to save him, and in a closed-door meeting on Tuesday morning, Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the minority leader, instructed fellow Democrats not to do so, citing Republicans’ “unwillingness to break from MAGA extremism.”
That meeting, which was billed as a listening session and strategy meeting to determine how Democrats would vote on Mr. Gaetz’s motion to remove Mr. McCarthy, quickly became an airing of grievances against the speaker.
The litany piled up: his vote to overturn the 2020 presidential election results after pro-Trump rioters stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021; his decision to renege on the debt limit deal he had brokered with President Biden in the summer to appease the rebels; his friendly relationship with former President Donald J. Trump; and his decision to open an impeachment inquiry into Mr. Biden without evidence of wrongdoing.