Senate Republicans are mulling a plan to jam the House with a continuing resolution to keep the government open and fund the war in Ukraine, though the muscle-flexing by conservatives in the House and Senate has them proceeding cautiously.
Senate Republicans as recently as last week said they were ready to add money for Ukraine to a stopgap spending bill that needs to pass by Sept. 30 to avoid a government shutdown.
But over the weekend, House conservatives and moderates struck a deal on a short-term measure that doesn’t include money for Ukraine or disaster relief — something that had been a non-starter with many Republican senators.
It’s not clear whether the House bill has the GOP votes to be approved. The Hill’s whip count on the bill includes 10 “no” votes as well as a number of GOP lawmakers leaning “no.” Republicans can only lose a maximum of four votes, assuming all Democrats vote against the legislation.
That raises the possibility of a shutdown and further complicates the situation for Senate Republicans, who for the most part see a shutdown as a potential political albatross for their party.
The Senate GOP isn’t sure about the path forward, and Republican leaders are softening predictions that the Senate will add money for the war in Ukraine to the stopgap since this would spark a battle with conservatives in both chambers.
“That’s a debate that’s forthcoming,” Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.) said of adding Ukraine money to the stopgap measure.
Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), a member of the Senate Republican leadership team, said, “I don’t know what the plans are, but I certainly support supplemental funding [for Ukraine], but I’m agnostic at what point that needs to be done.”
“I’ve actually asked my staff to provide me the data for how much we’ve appropriated and how much has actually been spent, so we can figure out what the need is,” he said.
The battle comes at a dramatic moment in Washington for Ukraine, with Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, expected to visit this week and press for continued assistance for his war-embattled country.
Senate Republican leaders are also undecided over whether to support a Democratic motion to suspend the Senate rules to get around an objection raised by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), an outspoken conservative, that last week derailed a minibus package funding military construction and the departments of Veterans Affairs, Agriculture, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development.
Johnson told The Hill Monday that there are growing reservations within the Senate GOP conference about adding more money for the war in Ukraine to a stopgap measure, reflecting what polls show is strong opposition among Republican voters to spending more on Ukraine.
“There are plenty of us who have grave reservations about what’s happening in Ukraine, and I will tell you the people who vote for us have really grave concerns about what’s happening in Ukraine,” Johnson said.
A CNN/SSRS poll of 1,279 adults and 1,049 registered voters nationwide in July found that 71 percent of Republicans said Congress should not authorize new funding for Ukraine.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) now must decide whether to go ahead and jam the House by adding Ukraine and disaster money in a bill to keep the government open.
Until the past few days, Schumer appeared to have the support of many Senate Republicans who wanted to add Ukraine funding to legislation to keep the government open, giving him leverage over Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).
Cornyn said last week that he assumed the House would not add Ukraine money to the continuing resolution, adding “I expect it would be added here” in the Senate.
“I think the strong majority of senators on our side support Ukraine aid and see it important to our national security,” he said, while acknowledging “we’re divided.”
“The House will pass what they can pass and then if it doesn’t include Ukraine funding, I’d imagine we’d add it and send it back” to the House “and try to negotiate an outcome,” Cornyn predicted to reporters earlier in the month.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) has repeatedly expressed his support for funding the war in Ukraine.
“This isn’t a debate about abstract principles or philanthropy. The United States isn’t arming Ukraine out of a sense of charity. We are backing a fellow democracy because it is in our direct interest to do so,” McConnell said on the Senate floor Thursday.
“To rebut one ad hominem accusation in particular, there is nothing ‘neo-conservative’ about support for Ukraine. Helping a democratic partner defend its sovereign territory against an unprovoked attack from a common enemy is obviously in America’s interest,” he argued.
On Monday, however, Senate Republican Policy Committee Chairwoman Joni Ernst (Iowa), a member of McConnell’s leadership team, said she does not support adding money for Ukraine to the continuing resolution.
“I think we should have a clean CR,” Ernst, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told The Hill.
Other Senate Republicans argue Ukraine needs more weapons and U.S. aid now while the country is slogging through a counteroffensive against entrenched Russian troops in the Zaporizhzhia region and other strategic areas.
“Military aid to Ukraine and some assistance is necessary. They’re doing a good job on the battlefield. There could be a major breakthrough here soon. I think it would be sending the worst possible signal to stop supporting Ukraine. It leads to war in other places,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said.
Another senior Republican senator who requested anonymity to discuss the sensitive issue of funding the war in Ukraine said there’s still a good chance the money could be added to the government stopgap funding measure, despite strong opposition among House conservatives.
Senate Republicans are also divided over whether to vote this week for a Democratic motion to suspend the rules to overcome the procedural objection raised by Johnson and keep the spending bills on track.
The Senate GOP conference is set to debate the issue at a lunch meeting Tuesday.