It’s Now or Never for Ukraine Aid
Plus: Yet another Comer bombshell turns out to be a dud.
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‘We are out of money to support Ukraine in this fight’
Anti-immigrant and border-hardening policies are among the demands Republicans are making in exchange for their support for any supplemental aid package for Ukraine and other foreign support in the final weeks of 2023.
Until recently, many Democrats were operating under the assumption that this was a normal political negotiation—that both sides would have to come to the table and be willing to accept compromises to achieve some of their policy priorities while leaving others for another day. But Republicans don’t see it that way.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) summed it up pretty clearly:
There’s a misunderstanding on the part of Senator Schumer and some of our Democratic friends. This is not a traditional negotiation, where we expect to come up with a bipartisan compromise on the border. This is a price that has to be paid in order to get the supplemental.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) lamented Cornyn’s quote in a social media post:
Unsurprisingly, the “negotiations” fell apart over the weekend. According to Semafor, Republicans presented increasingly radical proposals like granting the president authority to unilaterally shut down the asylum system by refusing to hear claims.
This and other policy ideas are in line with recent re-election campaign promises made by Donald Trump. Granting that power could lead to the reinstatement of a version of Title 42, which the U.S. government used to expel migrants during the pandemic. That use of the policy began with Trump and continued under Biden but expired earlier this year. Before its expiration, it was used to expel migrants from the United States some 2.8 million times.
Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), one of the Republicans leading the working group on border policy as it relates to the Ukraine supplemental with which it’s being paired, vowed to keep working despite reports of a breakdown:
Over 10,200 people illegally crossed the border just yesterday, one of the highest days in history and absolutely unprecedented for December.
We continue to work to find a solution that will protect our national security, stop the human trafficking and prevent the cartels from exploiting the obvious loopholes in our law. That is the goal & we will continue to work until we get it right.
Still, the lack of progress is quite discouraging for those hoping to get a Ukraine supplemental over the finish line. Everyone in the House seems to know what they want out of it, but no one seems to be moving with the urgency needed to get something done by the end of the year.
Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young laid out the ramifications in a letter to congressional leaders Monday morning:
I must stress that helping Ukraine defend itself and secure its future as a sovereign, democratic, independent, and prosperous nation advances our national security interests. It prevents larger conflict in the region that could involve NATO and put U.S. forces in harm’s way and deters future aggression, making us all safer. As President Biden has said, when dictators do not pay a price for their aggression, they will cause more chaos and death and destruction. They just keep on going, and the cost and the threats to America and to the world will keep rising. The path that Congress chooses will reverberate for many years to come.
We are out of money to support Ukraine in this fight. This isn’t a next year problem. The time to help a democratic Ukraine fight against Russian aggression is right now. It is time for Congress to act.
While House Speaker Mike Johnson has adjusted his tone on Ukraine since assuming the gavel, he poured cold water on the letter’s argument, writing in a social media post:
The Biden Administration has failed to substantively address any of my conference’s legitimate concerns about the lack of a clear strategy in Ukraine, a path to resolving the conflict, or a plan for adequately ensuring accountability for aid provided by American taxpayers. Meanwhile, the Administration is continually ignoring the catastrophe at our own border.
In a letter responding to Young, Johnson added that Ukraine funding is “dependent upon enactment of a transformative change to our nation’s border security laws.”
Meanwhile, the Democrat-controlled Senate is moving ahead with a Ukraine supplemental without the border component. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer filed cloture on a shell bill that would house the supplemental last night, and senators will soon be receiving a closed-door briefing on the military situation via a secure video conference. But frankly, I doubt whether this activity will move the needle for Republicans. It certainly won’t for those in the House.
In last Thursday’s edition of Press Pass, I offered a forecast for the ongoing effort to impeach President Joe Biden for something, anything—but really for the transgression of beating Donald Trump in 2020. My prediction was that Republican leadership in general, and House Oversight Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) in particular, would continue lying until the impeachment has been sufficiently legitimized in the minds of their GOP colleagues, conservative media, and the base of the Republican party.
Today, my prediction is already coming true. House Republicans will soon formalize their impeachment inquiry in a vote on the House floor. Last week, two Republican lawmakers told me they expected the vote to come up this week, but it’s now slated for the next week, and even that’s tentative. It is obviously not expected to be a bipartisan affair, and there is a possibility that at least a couple Republicans won’t get on board. Following the expulsion of George Santos, Republicans can only afford four defections.
Comer has developed a habit of releasing “bombshells” intended to blow away the president’s cover and reveal his hidden role in an alleged influence-peddling scheme. Lately, these have taken the form of scans of checks made out to Biden. The truth about each of these payments—the loan repayments from his brother, James Biden, are a good example—is easy to figure out: Any objective observer can see they are fully legal, and further, they didn’t even take place while Biden was vice president. But Comer is keeping the dud fusillade going.
The latest projectile came down Monday afternoon: the revelation of what Comer characterized as “monthly payments” from Hunter Biden’s crooked business account directly into Joe Biden's pocket in the fall of 2018. But once again, the malfeasance turned out to be regular old feasance: three payments of $1,380 that lawyers say covered part of the cost of a Ford F-150 Raptor1 Hunter had been driving. There’s a reason the Oversight Committee’s press release didn’t mention the dollar amount, and that the figure was not disclosed other than in the fuzzy scans of financial statements: $1,380 isn’t exactly selling-out-America money for a former vice president of the United States.
At this point, if you honestly believe that Biden, while holding no elected office of any kind, was conducting an intricate influence-peddling operation geared to a payoff for his clients that would come only after he won an open presidential primary and then defeated an incumbent Republican, and that he was doing all this for payments that could not cover the cost of renting a studio apartment in Washington, D.C., then I don’t know what to tell you.
It’s also worth mentioning that despite his committee’s broad subpoena power, Comer isn’t even the one who discovered the payments. The New York Post reported on them last year in a larger story about Biden covering many of his son’s bills and expenses for a time during the lead-up to the 2020 election.
Comer’s dishonesty has proved typical during this process. Unfortunately for him, strategically denying the truth hasn’t yet helped him to shift opinion among the people he most desperately needs to convince to come alongside the impeachment effort, such as on-the-fence House Republicans or anyone outside of the conservative media echo chamber. But House Republican leaders have their marching orders, facts be damned.