US vote shows when Democrats are up against a wall, they may opt to betray Ukraine

WASHINGTON, DC – President Joe Biden sought to conceal his relief at Saturday’s late news that a US government shutdown had been averted. He described yet another round of Republican brinksmanship as “an unnecessary crisis”, insisted the country “should never have been put in this position”, and immediately demanded a restoration of financial and military support for Ukraine.

The news that the House of Representatives had passed a stopgap funding measure that strips all funding for Kyiv for at least the next 45 days caused consternation and concern in the corridors of power here, and of course raised concerns in the Ukrainian capital.

The halt in support for Kyiv’s war effort – even if it proves only temporary – was the price Democrats in the House of Representatives believed they had to pay in order to keep the wheels of American governance moving.

But the price may be steep, and Saturday’s vote indicated that when Biden’s fellow Democrats are up against a wall, even they will sometimes opt to betray Zelensky’s government.

Trump-backed, far-right Republicans generally view Saturday’s events with fury after Republican Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s unexpected decision to ask the Democrats to save him from the ignominy of a shutdown (described as a “stunner” by the website Politico). McCarthy is now seen as a traitor, and may soon face a fresh bid to defenestrate him.

“We’re tired of f**king around with these whack jobs,” said Republican congressman Don Bacon, who had pushed for the speaker to ignore the right-wing hardliners.

But Congressman Matt Rosendale of Montana fumed that “every single Democrat except for one voted for Kevin McCarthy’s ploy to continue Nancy Pelosi’s budget and Joe Biden’s policies”. For him, and others on the far right, McCarthy has become a cipher for cosying up to the Democrats whenever he runs into legislative trouble.

On the matter of Ukraine, however, the far-right did succeed in drawing a dramatic line in the sand on Saturday. Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, the inflammatory Trump acolyte from Georgia, claimed, “Joe Biden treats Ukraine like it’s the 51st state. The Senate treats Ukraine like it’s the 51st state… Ukraine is not the 51st state.”

Meanwhile, Congressman Troy Nehls was assuring constituents in Texas that, “I am not giving them a nickel. I have never voted, nor will I continue to give Ukraine any money.”

Those Republicans can now have it both ways. They won’t be tarred by accusations that they sparked another US government shutdown, an action that never proves popular with America’s voters. But they can proudly tell their constituents that, faced with Biden’s $6.9trn budget proposal, they insisted money spent funding Ukraine should be saved for projects at home.

The White House wants funding for Ukraine restored now, not least to derail any glee in the Kremlin over the weekend’s news. Democrats in the US Senate are also demanding immediate action. Indeed, for a couple of nervous hours on Saturday, Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado was so furious about the withdrawal of Ukraine funding that he threatened to scupper the entire deal agreed in the House of Representatives, a move that would have shut the government down.

His concerns were only assuaged when the leaders of both parties in the Senate issued a joint statement vowing to vote on further funding for Kyiv “in the coming weeks”.

But the “coming weeks” are paved with uncertainty. A Ukrainian government spokesman said on Sunday that Kyiv is “actively working… to ensure that the new US budget decision… includes new funds” to help the country. That’s a reflection of the fact that the stop-gap spending measure that will keep the US Government open on Monday will only fund its operations for 45 days. By the time America is preparing to celebrate Thanksgiving next month, the country will once again be on the edge of a shutdown abyss.

Between now and then, it will take some fancy legislative footwork to restore funding for Ukraine. Even if the House of Representatives masters the dance steps, far-right Republicans will again seek to strip that funding when attention turns to a longer-term solution.

America’s lawmakers proved, at least on Saturday afternoon, sufficiently mature to avoid another lengthy, disastrous shutdown. But in both the White House and Kyiv, leaders are on notice: on Capitol Hill, American funding for Ukraine’s war is now a political hostage.