white house —
With U.S. funding for Ukraine at risk because of congressional turmoil, President Joe Biden says he will be delivering a “major speech” to persuade the American people to continue supporting Ukrainians in their defense against Russia’s invasion.
“I’m going to make the argument that it’s overwhelmingly in the interest of the United States of America that Ukraine succeeds,” Biden said Wednesday as he faced questions from reporters.
The remark followed Tuesday’s dramatic ousting of Republican Kevin McCarthy from his role as House speaker, just days after Congress omitted provisions for further Ukraine funding from a last-minute deal to prevent a government shutdown.
While a new deal to fund government operations must be negotiated by mid-November, Biden indicated he would seek alternative routes to ensure the flow of aid.
“We can support Ukraine in the next tranche that we need,” he said. “And there is another means by which we may be able to find funding for that. But I’m not going to do that now.”
The Pentagon warned that without action from Congress, funding could run out in a matter of months, with only $5.4 billion remaining under the Presidential Drawdown Authority funds and $1.6 billion left of the $25.9 billion provided by Congress to replenish U.S. military stocks that have been flowing to Ukraine.
“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,” said Biden.
A lapse in funding will affect not only the situation on Ukraine’s battlefields as it grinds through its counteroffensive and heads into the challenging winter months, but it also could embolden Moscow, said Luke Coffey, a senior fellow focusing on foreign policy at the Hudson Institute.
“They see the writing on the wall, and they’re very hopeful that this continued chaos stays in the United States and that there’s isn’t any funding for Ukraine,” he told VOA. “Only Russia stands to benefit here.”
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre declined to provide further details on the president’s speech but acknowledged that a growing share of the American public is questioning whether to continue sending historic sums of money to help the Ukrainian people.
“We have seen the polling,” she said in response to VOA’s question during Wednesday’s briefing. “We also believe that it is fundamentally important to our own national security, as well as supporting the great people of Ukraine, to continue.”
Twenty months since Moscow’s invasion, public support for U.S. military assistance is waning, according to a poll released Wednesday by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Sixty-three percent of those surveyed said they supported sending additional arms and supplies to Kyiv, compared with 72% in July 2022. The drop was sharpest among Republicans, followed by independents, while Democratic support remained largely unchanged.
Amid eroding support, Biden needs to better explain to the American people that their vital interests are at stake, said former Ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst, who is now senior director of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center.
The message should be that Putin’s aims directly threaten American interests, Herbst told VOA. “Because if he wins in Ukraine, he will be provoking and maybe committing direct aggression against our NATO allies, which will require greater American defense expenditures and the use of American troops.”
Since the war began, the Biden administration and Congress have directed more than $75 billion in assistance to Ukraine, which includes humanitarian, financial and military support, according to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, a German policy institute.
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Monday that he remained confident that U.S. support had not wavered, calling the decision by Congress to not put aside funds for Ukraine an “individual case.”
A new House speaker who opposes funding could quash a proposal before it even comes to a vote, so a deal regarding Ukraine may depend on who succeeds McCarthy. The speaker was ousted Tuesday when a motion to do so from fellow Republican Matt Gaetz was supported by eight Republicans and 208 Democrats.
On Wednesday, Jim Jordan became the first to publicly declare his intention to run for speaker. Other names have been floated, including Steve Scalise, the Number 2 House Republican who has long been favored to take over as speaker after McCarthy, and Kevin Hern, chair of the Republican Study Committee, the largest Republican caucus in the House.
The group Defending Democracy Together ranked lawmakers from A to F on the strength of their past support for Ukraine aid, with A signifying the strongest support. Jordan and Hern were rated as F, while Scalise was rated as B.
House Republicans plan to meet next Tuesday for a first round of internal party voting.
Unsettling for allies
The disarray in Washington is unsettling for Europeans, who have been told for a long time that most Republicans support Ukraine and a shift is unlikely, said Liana Fix, a fellow for Europe at the Council on Foreign Relations.
“This raises again questions of reliability and predictability of the U.S.,” she told VOA.
European support is also eroding. Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban recently threatened to veto European Union aid for Ukraine, while Robert Fico, a former prime minister who campaigned on a pro-Russian message, recently won Slovakia’s parliamentary elections.
Those forces in Europe trying to capitalize on dissatisfaction and pro-Russian views will certainly take the situation in Washington as a confirmation that a shift in approach is needed, Fix noted. “Something along the lines of, ‘If the U.S. lacks support, why should our citizens continue to pay for Ukraine?’”
As anxiety over U.S. commitment grows among Europeans, Biden convened a call this week with more than a dozen allies and partners to assure them he is committed to military assistance to Ukraine for as long as it takes, according to the White House.
VOA Congressional Correspondent Katherine Gypson and VOA National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin contributed to this report.