A growing divide among Georgia Republicans over the escalating cost of U.S. military aid to Ukraine is driving new tensions among conservatives as a crucial funding deadline for an emergency spending bill approaches.
President Joe Biden’s request for roughly $40 billion in additional spending — including $24 billion to help Ukraine counter Russia’s invasion — has upped the pressure on hard-line Republicans who threaten to shut down the government if stiffer spending cuts aren’t enacted.
With an election year looming, and the Ukrainian counteroffensive showing limited territorial gains, GOP leaders are struggling to balance urgent requests to help an ally fend off Russian invaders with backlash from the party’s far-right wing and skepticism from the public.
They have little time to reconcile their differences. Lawmakers face a Sept. 30 deadline to pass at least a stopgap spending measure or risk a shutdown — a prospect that some hard-line Georgia Republicans are courting if their demands aren’t met.
Among the loudest opponents to the increasing tab of foreign military aid is U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has gone from congressional pariah to one of the more influential members of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s fractious coalition.
The Rome Republican has questioned prioritizing spending for a beleaguered European nation that is “not the 51st state.” And she told voters she would object to any spending bill unless it slashed aid to Ukraine, opened an impeachment inquiry into Biden and cut funding to prosecutors investigating former President Donald Trump.
“I will work with the speaker of the House. I will work with everyone. But I will not fund those things,” Greene told constituents last month at a town hall. “And I thought it was most important for me to tell you all first because I work for you.”
On Tuesday, McCarthy directed House committees to open a formal impeachment inquiry into Biden.
The pressure is on McCarthy, whose tenuous grip on power depends on keeping far-right Republicans aligned with more mainstream lawmakers as he seeks a plan that unites the party’s slim majority.
U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler, cautioned that Republicans should craft a budget plan that cuts spending and funds national security without a government shutdown.
“Closing down government agencies just to reopen them within days or weeks is practically flushing money down the toilet, which we can ill afford to do,” he said.
A chasm over Ukraine
The chasm over Ukraine is reflected in the latest Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll, which shows more than half of likely GOP voters oppose devoting more economic and military support to Ukraine, with 43% saying they are “strongly” against it. Only about one-fifth of Republicans solidly support the aid.
The poll also put on display the enduring impact of Trump’s nationalistic “America First” ethos. Trump has said the U.S. should not be “sending very much” financial aid to Ukraine, while former Vice President Mike Pence and others have rallied behind more robust spending to keep Russia’s and China’s military ambitions in check.
Some 75% of those who strongly oppose more aid to Ukraine back Trump’s comeback bid, according to the AJC poll, while nearly half of those who endorse more spending to help the European ally support one of his rivals.
“We should not be running a proxy war on the other side of the world,” said Mark Beteag, a Trump supporter from Gwinnett County who criticized Biden’s foreign policy agenda. “I believe this administration played a key role in starting it and fueling it.”
By contrast, Julie Upton of Dawson County said she’s backing former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley partly because she wants the U.S. to continue to help Ukraine drive Russia from its borders.
“She sees the world as a whole,” Upton said. “You can’t be so closed-minded that you can’t believe something happening there won’t affect us here.”
The debate over Ukraine isn’t likely to soon peter out, as both militaries battle along frontlines that stretch hundreds of miles and economic warfare that has touched almost every sector of the global economy.
Some military analysts expect the conflict to stretch for years, adding to the growing cost. Congress has approved roughly $43 billion in military aid for Ukraine since Russia’s invasion in February 2022, but the total investment is far higher. An analysis by the bipartisan Center for Strategic and International Studies pegged the overall tab for U.S. aid to Ukraine at $135 billion — more aid than the U.S. distributes to any other country.
Going ‘wobbly’ in Kyiv
In the U.S. Senate, lawmakers from both parties have reached a consensus over military funding, which they cast as critical to prevent an ascendant Russia-China alliance that can pose grave threats to the U.S. and its allies. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the chamber’s top Republican, recently implored his GOP colleagues not “to go wobbly.”
“Now, with Ukraine bravely defending its sovereignty and eroding Russia’s capacity to threaten NATO, it is not the time to ease up,” he said, adding: “Helping Ukraine retake its territory means weakening one of America’s biggest strategic adversaries without firing a shot.”
But even ardent supporters of Ukrainian aid know patience can run thin, particularly as a much-awaited counteroffensive, relying on Western equipment and training, makes halting progress. U.S. Rep. Mike Collins, who has joined Greene in raising concerns about additional military aid, put that concern in stark terms earlier this year.
Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC
Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC
“We cannot keep sending blank checks to Ukraine without an end to the war in sight,” said Collins, a first-term Republican who represents parts of northeast Georgia.
Democrats, meanwhile, have encountered only sporadic opposition over Ukrainian aid and have largely coalesced behind Biden’s strategy. The party’s Georgia leaders have cast GOP holdouts as threats to both national security and fiscal responsibility.
U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff told WDUN radio host Martha Zoller this month that the debate over the spending plan should be about “national interests” and not partisan politics.
“A government shutdown would be deeply irresponsible,” he said. “A yearlong stopgap temporary funding measure because we can’t get our act together to prioritize the right things would be a big mistake.”
Staff writers Patricia Murphy and David Wickert contributed to this article.