Any assistance to Ukraine should be removed from a stopgap US spending bill in order for the federal government to avoid a shutdown, US House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy has said.
Saturday is the deadline for lawmakers to agree on the federal budget, and avert a crisis that would put key programs on hold and lead to delays in payments for government employees, among other things.
On Friday, the House failed to pass a last-minute bill aimed at extending government funding beyond September 30. It was rejected in a 232-198 vote, with all Democrats and 21 of McCarthy’s fellow Republicans opposing the legislation.
“I think if we had a clean one without Ukraine on it, we could probably be able to move that through,” the House speaker told CNN after the vote.
McCarthy warned that if “the Senate puts Ukraine on there and focuses on Ukraine over America, I think – I think that could cause real problems.”
In a later message on X (formerly Twitter), he reiterated that the “misguided” bill from the Senate, which includes aid for Kiev, has “no path forward and is dead on arrival.”
However, McCarthy said the House will keep working “around the clock” to find a way to keep the government open.
More votes on the issue are expected to take place on Saturday, according to the Republican leadership in the lower chamber.
Support for Ukraine had already been reportedly slashed from $25 billion to $6.2 billion as a result of negotiations between lawmakers earlier this week. But many Republican hardliners insist that it should be dropped from the budget entirely.
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby warned this week that the Pentagon could only support Ukraine for “a few weeks” if Congress fails to pass a new funding bill.
Last week, McCarthy rejected Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky’s request to address the House during his visit to the US, as he did the previous year when the chamber was under Democratic leadership. The two held talks behind closed doors instead.
Prior to the meeting, House speaker said he had demanded that Zelensky explain what Kiev was doing with the billions already provided by Washington since the start of the conflict with Moscow. McCarthy said taxpayers were asking: “Where’s the accountability on the money we’ve already spent? What is the plan for victory?”
Earlier this month, Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky told The Economist that he was “sensing” weakening support for his country from the West. This week, Ukraine’s Finance Minister Sergey Marchenko admitted that the number of those willing to give Kiev money was “growing smaller and smaller” and that “there are many questions about how much taxpayers in those countries are willing to finance us.”
Meanwhile, the head of the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council, Aleksey Danilov, suggested that the West should tell Kiev exactly how long it is planning to support it.
President Joe Biden has welcomed a bipartisan short-term budget deal that will keep the US government open for the next 45 days, but was disappointed that none of the billions of dollars in aid to Kiev that he had requested made it to the final bill.
“We cannot under any circumstances allow American support for Ukraine to be interrupted,” Biden said in a brief statement on Saturday night, shortly after Congress passed the measure.
Biden had requested an additional $24 billion for Ukraine, but critics argued that Washington has more important priorities and should have stronger safeguards against the misappropriation of the funds and supplies it sends to Kiev.
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