Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made an urgent plea Thursday to U.S. lawmakers on Capitol Hill, telling them that without a new tranche of funding to combat Russian aggression, Ukraine will lose the war.
The White House requested $24 billion in supplemental funding for Ukraine earlier this year. But there is growing Republican concern about providing U.S. aid to Ukraine, combined with broader difficulties passing either a short-term continuing resolution or a full 2024 budget funding the U.S. government past a September 30 deadline.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer summed up the meeting with Zelenskyy, telling the members, 'If we don't get the aid, we will lose the war.'
Later in a statement, Schumer emphasized the danger of not passing the supplemental funding request, saying, 'It is very clear that if we were to have a government shutdown, or pass a CR without Ukrainian aid, the damage that would occur on Ukraine's campaign would be devastating.'
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a major supporter of U.S. aid to Ukraine in the Senate, was tight-lipped afterwards, only telling reporters it was 'a good meeting.'
On Wednesday, McConnell applauded the appointment of an inspector general for the oversight of Ukraine aid.
'Thanks in large part to the requirements Senate Republicans have attached to our aid since the beginning of Russia's escalation, the United States has unprecedented visibility into how Ukraine is using American weapons,' McConnell said in a statement.
Zelenskyy also met with U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Thursday ahead of a Pentagon announcement of a new security package of more air defense and artillery capabilities for Ukraine.
Pentagon press secretary, Brigadier General Patrick Ryder, told reporters Thursday that "everything is on schedule" with the delivery of M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine and that if there is a government shutdown, F-16 training in the U.S. for Ukrainian pilots would still take place.
From the beginning of hostilities in February 2022 to May 2023, the U.S. has provided more than $76.8 billion in assistance, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.
The share of Americans who say the U.S. is providing too much aid to Ukraine has steadily increased since the start of the war in February 2022, according to a June 2023 Pew Research Center survey.
Just 14% of Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters said the amount of U.S. aid to Ukraine was excessive but more than 44% of Republican and Republican-leaning voters said the amount of aid was too high. One-third of all Americans told Pew that the Russian invasion of Ukraine was a threat to U.S. interests.
Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy walks from the chamber to his office at the Capitol in Washington, Sept. 21, 2023.
On the House side of the U.S. Capitol, where concerns are growing in the Republican majority about continuing U.S. aid to Ukraine, the reception for Zelenskyy was far more muted. Speaker Kevin McCarthy and House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries met with the Ukrainian president behind closed doors, but the speaker's office did not release any photographs of the meeting.
'It was a very candid, open, forward-looking discussion,' Jeffries said in his weekly press conference Thursday.
Jeffries said the war between Ukraine and Russia is 'a struggle on the global stage between democracy and autocracy, between freedom and tyranny, between truth and propaganda, between good and evil.'
More-conservative members of the Republican majority have objected to passing the Ukraine supplemental request along with funding for the U.S. government.
FILE - Rep. Mike Waltz, a Florida Republican, gestures during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 4, 2023.
In an opinion piece published earlier this week by news network Fox, Republican Representative Mike Waltz wrote that 'while most Americans are sympathetic to Ukraine and understand that Russian President Vladimir Putin must be prevented from his goal of recreating the old Soviet Union, President Joe Biden has not been a good-faith partner. The Biden administration has neither explained the American objective in Ukraine nor his strategy to achieve it.'
Waltz went on to call for greater burden sharing of aid to Ukraine by European countries and said 'the United States must invest its savings in its own security. It should match the dollar value of any aid it gives to Ukraine with securing our southern border.'
According to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, the U.S. is in the top tier of countries providing aid to Ukraine, giving from 0.25% to 0.45% of its annual gross domestic product to aiding Ukraine, while Scandinavian countries such as Sweden provide slightly more at 0.75%.
But most Republicans recognize the need to include more aid.
FILE - Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, speaks on Capitol Hill, Aug. 29, 2023.
'They need it and they're going to get it,' Republican Representative Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told reporters after Zelenskyy's meeting Thursday morning with lawmakers.
'The majority support this. I know there's some dissension on both sides, but as I said, war of attrition is not going to win. That's what 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.'
McCaul went on to say that lawmakers pressed Zelenskyy on several issues, including 'accountability, speed of weapons [delivery] and a plan for victory.'