In the days after more than half of the House GOP conference voted against providing $300 million in aid for Ukraine, Defense appropriator Mike Garcia got to work on what he describes as “a tool for the administration” to win back Republican support for arming Kyiv.
The result: a 14-page report that demanded answers from the White House on the strategy, objectives and cost projections surrounding the war against Russia, which will enter its third year come February.
Without that information, Garcia said in a Nov. 2 interview at his office, the Biden administration would fail to “get guys like me on board” moving forward. Garcia, R-Calif., was one of the 117 Republicans who voted “no” at the end of September on a stand-alone bill to allocate $300 million to the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative.
The money, used for training Ukrainian troops, was stripped out of the $826 billion fiscal 2024 Defense bill to try to win over GOP holdouts, and is separate from the supplemental funding packages the Biden administration has requested.
“When we have confidence that we have the knockout punch defined and then right-sized and funded correctly and not overly, then you’ll see sort of that critical mass of support come back; you won’t see 117 people vote against it,” Garcia said.
Some Democratic members of the House Armed Services Committee, however, argued that Republicans whose support for Ukraine is contingent on getting additional information are making excuses to withhold their votes. Lawmakers, they said, already have all the answers they need.
“They’ve got answers to each and every one of those questions,” Armed Services member Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., said of House Republican holdouts. “The one question that has been asked is, ‘So what’s the end game?’ And the White House has been very, very clear on what the end game is; it’s victory for Ukraine. So I guess they’re not listening. The fact is each one of those questions has been asked.”
HASC member Seth Moulton, D-Mass., charged that some of his Republican colleagues are scared to publicly back further assistance for Kyiv.
“Some of them are unafraid and they’re out there rightly saying that we need to support Ukraine because it’s so critical to our own national security,” he said. “Others are too afraid to go against their base and are literally asking Biden’s White House for cover.”
Garcia’s report was crafted ahead of the release of the Biden administration’s $106 billion national security supplemental request, which includes $61.4 billion for Ukraine and an additional $9.15 billion in funds for humanitarian support in Ukraine, Israel, Gaza and elsewhere.
But he said the dozen questions within the document remain relevant — particularly because, he charged, the Ukraine request represents “an absurd number that doesn’t really have any justification underneath it.” Those queries center on the path to victory for Ukraine; which yet-to-be sent weapons “would be effective in altering the current stalemate”; the rationale behind the resources requested; and more.
Led by Garcia, a group of five Republicans joined in concurring with the report’s findings, including Armed Services members Jack Bergman of Michigan and Jen Kiggans of Virginia. Reps. Daniel Crenshaw and August Pfluger of Texas, and Brad Wenstrup of Ohio also signed on.
Still, Garcia estimates that if he had widely sought conference buy-in before releasing his report, some three-quarters of House Republicans would have signed on.
“They may not agree on the why necessarily, but they agree that the information in here is the right information, and that the questions being asked are the right questions being asked,” he said. “These are the answers that we need to even have a chance to support it moving forward.”
‘Hymn book for the Ukraine issue’
The report’s release comes as House Republicans have committed to breaking up the Biden administration’s national security supplemental request into pieces — leaving Ukraine spending on the back burner, for now.
Lawmakers already spun off $14.3 billion of emergency aid for Israel in its war against Hamas into stand-alone legislation, which passed 226-196 earlier this month largely along party lines.
But receiving a White House response to the 12 questions in the report is key for the House GOP conference to consider supplemental Ukraine assistance, Garcia said.
Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, D-Pa., said in a brief interview that questions about strategy, objectives and cost are “part of our oversight responsibility as a Congress.” But she added that, in her view, “there have been those checks and balances with Ukraine.”
“I think that they should be leaning on their colleagues who are in those committees of jurisdiction who are very much in support of continuing to help Ukraine,” said Houlahan, a member of the Armed Services Committee, of House Republicans who continue to have questions about the war’s path forward.
Speaker Mike Johnson delivered Garcia’s report to the administration himself, the Louisiana Republican said in an Oct. 26 Fox News interview that came after he met with White House officials to discuss the administration’s most recent supplemental proposal.
“We want to be cooperative; we need to work together on this, but we owe it to the people to know what the plan is, where the money is going to be spent, and we need some auditing for the dollars that we’ve already sent over there,” Johnson said in the interview. “These are not tough questions.”
Garcia said Johnson has called the report “the hymn book for the Ukraine issue.”
The report blamed eroding support for additional Ukraine funding on the White House’s “lack of transparency and accountability” and “absence of a coherent win strategy and path to peace.”
Going forward, the report argued, the U.S. should focus on supplying Ukraine with military support and leave humanitarian assistance to European allies. Garcia said that he wants to see humanitarian assistance for Kyiv excluded from future aid packages.
State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development officials have underscored the need for both humanitarian spending and direct budget support for Ukraine. Before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week, officials warned that economic aid has been depleted in Ukraine. Without additional funding, they said, the country may have to resort to tactics that would lead to hyperinflation in order to continue the war.
Garcia downplayed the need to quickly pass a Ukraine supplemental, calling it “probably the least urgent” of the national security priorities within the White House’s request.
The Pentagon has more than $5 billion in authority to continue transferring weapons to Ukraine, and, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Nov. 8, around $1.1 billion to backfill defense equipment that has already been sent abroad. But the administration’s Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative funds, under which the U.S. buys weapons directly from industry, have been tapped out for weeks.
Even more urgent than aid for Ukraine, Garcia said, is his effort to institute a pay floor for junior enlisted troops that would bring their salaries to $31,200 annually — equivalent to an hourly wage of $15.
Garcia said he wants to use the next supplemental bill as a vehicle for the language. The pay provision, he said, should become “the glue, frankly, that holds this deal together.”
As that future supplemental comes into focus, Garcia signaled the legislation could include offsets and contingencies that set parameters around future Ukraine funding.
The House’s stand-alone Israel aid bill featured a $14.3 billion cut to tax enforcement funding at the Internal Revenue Service. But the Congressional Budget Office said in recent weeks that rather than paying for itself, the bill would actually add to the deficit.
Garcia said he wasn’t sure if the next supplemental would be offset “100 percent,” but he added: “I think that’s a responsible place to start.”
Meanwhile, Garcia said some of his GOP colleagues have floated creating a link between future Ukraine aid packages and border security. Future aid for Kyiv could be dependent on whether the U.S. hits certain metrics at the southern border, he explained.
“If we get below 50,000 encounters a month, you get additional support for Ukraine,” Garcia said. “I don’t like that idea, to be honest, but that’s what some folks are talking about.”