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House Speaker Mike Johnson Partially Justified in Blocking Ukraine Aid Bill

The Senate recently passed the aid bill with only 22 Republican Senators voting for it. The bill is yet to be taken up in the House of Representatives. House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries threatened to bring in a measure known as D-95 (the discharge petition) to force the Speaker to take up the bill should 218 lawmakers vote for it. However, Republican Speaker of the House Mike Johnson is partially justified in withholding the $95 billion worth of aid to Ukraine.

There have been myriad debates in Washington on whether Ukraine deserves the aid. All Western reports indicate that Ukraine is in serious trouble on the ground. Just the other day, the Ukrainian city of Avidikka was abandoned to the Russians. The Ukrainians are facing a serious shortage of ammunition and personnel. A recent Washington Post piece stated that the number of soldiers in each battalion has fallen to less than 40. A fully equipped battalion consists of more than 200 soldiers. 

The rise of pessimism in Western capitals is in stark contrast to this time last year when a much-touted Ukrainian counter-offensive was expected to rout the Russians. Anticipation had built up against the backdrop of Ukrainian gains around Kharkiv in September 2022. However, the counteroffensive was not only unsuccessful, but Russia ended up capturing the cities of Bakhmut and Avidiika, albeit with staggering losses on both sides.

Despite the hard truths that have played out for all to see, the Biden administration has bizarrely decided to send another $60 billion to Ukraine, which is not going to make any meaningful difference on the battlefield. Frankly, the individuals pushing for more funding for Ukraine do not have the best report cards from the previous wars they helped start. The same individuals are back with a single mission, to fund an endless war against Russia. 

Once again, unsurprisingly, they set very high expectations for Ukraine right from the start.

To give due credit to the Ukrainians, they were initially successful in resisting the Russian advances on Kyiv. However, after the initial resistance, the Russians made their first gains by capturing Mariupol in March 2022. There were chances of reaching a peace deal as early as 2022 when talks were held in Istanbul between a Russian and a Ukrainian delegation. Zelensky had even offered to talk about Ukrainian neutrality. However, there have been suggestions that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson scuppered the talks on the behest of the United States. Regardless, the talks failed, and the war has worn on since.

John Mearsheimer, an eminent IR scholar who has proven to be time and again correct about the Russia-Ukraine conflict, recently mentioned in an interview with Piers Morgan that Ukraine stands no chance against Russia since the Russians outnumber the Ukrainians 7:1 in manpower, artillery, and airpower. He also suggested Russia might end up conquering more Ukrainian territory. Therefore, Speaker Mike Johnson is justified in not taking up the bill. The Democrats are using the death of Alexei Navalny and the fall of Aviddikka to push for the package to be passed. The common smears on Republicans seem to be that they are pro-Putin, or at best Putin’s useful idiots. Mearsheimer has been similarly smeared.

Such vitriol is misleading and absent of any serious proof. The Trump led government’s friendlier relationship with the Kremlin does not necessarily suggest a pro-Russian stance despite what many claim. 

The Republicans have been inept in responding to these allegations. By tying Ukraine aid to the border situation, the Republicans have scored an own-goal as the bill was passed in the Senate through bipartisan consensus. Instead, Mike Johnson has explained why he has refused to take up the bill. He alleges that the border concerns were not properly addressed in the bill, and that the Biden administration has failed to explain how they plan to end this conflict. They must also highlight Biden’s campaign promise of ending the forever wars. The problem with the Republicans is that they seem much too focused on fighting culture wars, to the detriment of resolving pressing problems through concrete policy proposals.

Although one would like to see Ukraine regain much of its territory, this seems nearly impossible with present tactics. Even former Ukrainian chief of staff Valery Zaluzhny acknowledged this, when he mentioned that penetrating Russian defences would require technological advances to improve artillery effectiveness and achieve air superiority. It is rumoured that the rifts between Zelensky, who at least in public remains optimistic, and Zaluzhny led to the firing of the latter. Another round of mobilisation seems to be politically unpopular.

If they are genuinely concerned about unnecessarily sending Ukraine more money, the Republicans in Congress must improve their messaging and address the lack of coherent strategy on the part of the Biden administration. They could corner Biden as well as gain the trust of the American people by fixing the Ukraine problem, both of which would be valuable in the coming election. Instead, by fixating on tying the Ukraine bill to the border issue and fighting culture wars, the Republicans hand the advantage to the Democrats.

Image: Aaron Schwartz/NurPhoto/Rex/Shutterstock

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