HomeWorldMcCarthy slaps down Zelensky speech as Ukrainian president tries to rally support
McCarthy slaps down Zelensky speech as Ukrainian president tries to rally support
September 21, 2023
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky returned to Washington Thursday to reassure lawmakers that his country is winning its 19-month-old war with Russia — only to face eroding support among congressional Republicans for continuing to back Kyiv’s forces.
In the most outward sign of a lukewarm reception, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) denied Zelensky’s request to address a joint meeting of Congress, which the Ukrainian leader last did in December.
“Zelensky asked for a joint session, we just didn’t have time. He’s already given a joint session,” McCarthy told reporters after a morning meeting with the Ukrainian president.
The Ukrainian leader’s visit to DC comes after the Biden White House requested last month that Congress approve more than $20 billion in additional aid for the war-torn country, leading dozens of Republicans to dig in their heels.
“The vast majority of Congress remains unaware of how much the United States has spent to date in total on this conflict,” a band of six GOP senators and 23 GOP House lawmakers wrote in a Thursday letter to the White House
“Yesterday at a classified briefing over Ukraine, it became clear that America is being asked to fund an indefinite conflict with unlimited resources. Enough is enough. To these and future requests, my colleagues and I say: NO,” Sen. JD Vance (R-Ohio), who led the letter, posted on X, formerly Twitter.
Zelensky, wearing his now-familiar drab olive uniform, was escorted around the Capitol by House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) — with McCarthy opting not to greet Ukraine’s president in front of the cameras — and Senate Republican and Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)
“We are happy that senators, Congress members, White House, really the United States … support us,” Zelensky told reporters after meeting with senators. “I think we have very strong ties with senators.”
McCarthy and other House Republican leaders had promised tough questions for Zelensky about when and how Ukraine plans to make a major breakthrough in its months-long counteroffensive against heavily mined Russian lines in the east.
Zelensky “conceded that it’s tough, very tough to overcome entrenched defenses,” Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) said following the briefing. “They believe they will make slow but steady progress, but it’s not going to be quick.”
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Zelensky had told House lawmakers his forces were “winning,” but need “air cover, that would be F-16s” and long-range ballistic missiles known as ATACMS.
“He needs long-range artillery to hit Crimea, where the Iranian drones are coming out of. He doesn’t have that,” McCaul said. “Right now, his troops are going in with no air cover … We wouldn’t send our troops into that situation. So we need to give them everything they need. If this administration won’t give it to them, then I submitted that we write it in our appropriations bill. We write the weapons that he asked for, that this administration won’t give, we write that in our appropriations bill.”
McCaul shrugged off Republican opposition to providing such support, saying: “The majority of the majority support this. I know there’s some dissension on both sides, but I said, ‘A war of attrition is not going to win this.’ And that’s what [Vladimir] Putin wants because he wants to break the will of the American people and the Europeans. We can’t afford a war of attrition. We need a plan for victory.”
Further aid for Ukraine is in jeopardy as lawmakers attempt to avert a government shutdown, which would start at 11:59 p.m. Sept. 30.
A key demand among hardline House GOP rebels is that any stopgap spending eschew additional aid to Ukraine.
This creates complications with the Senate, where both Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) favor more assistance.
In the White House letter, the 29 Republican dissidents asked for answers to several key questions.
“How is the counteroffensive going? Are the Ukrainians any closer to victory than they were 6 months ago? What is our strategy, and what is the president’s exit plan? What does the administration define as victory in Ukraine? … It would be an absurd abdication of congressional responsibility to grant this request without knowing the answers to these questions.”
Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February of 2022, Congress has appropriated over $113 billion in both military and humanitarian support to the war-torn nation.
Roughly $70 billion of that was allowed for security assistance, around 90% of which has been doled out.
The $24 billion request by the White House includes $13 billion in security assistance and about $7.3 billion for economic support.