House Republicans moved to strip $300 million in Ukraine aid from their defense spending bill Wednesday night and set up a separate vote on the funds, reversing course ahead of an expected final vote this week and amid uncertainty about whether the bill would pass.
The House Rules Committee convened a last-minute meeting to remove the funding for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative — which is intended for training Ukrainian soldiers and purchasing weapons — from the Department of Defense appropriations bill. The panel approved it to move as a stand-alone bill.
The party-line vote to remove the funding from the bill was a transparent move to get enough support for the spending measure to pass in the slim House GOP majority amid opposition to funding Ukraine. Republicans can spare just a handful of votes, since all Democrats are expected to oppose the bill’s final passage.
“For many members and for their constituents, a vote on funding for Ukraine as part of the ongoing war is a matter of conscience. Shifting these funds out of the appropriations process will allow those for whom this is a question of conscience to vote to support our troops while also allowing all members to vote on providing funding for Ukraine,” House Rules Committee Chairman Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said in the emergency hearing.
“There are some people who can’t in good conscience take a vote for the [Defense Department] approps bill if it includes money for a war that they are morally opposed to,” Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) said in the Rules Committee hearing, adding: “They want to be able to fund our soldiers without sending money to Ukraine.”
Removal of the funds represents a major flip-flop-flip for GOP leadership.
Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters Friday that he would strip the Ukraine funding from the spending bill after Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) voted against advancing the legislation due to its provisions on Ukraine funding, publicly venting her frustrations about the money not being stripped.
But the next day, McCarthy backtracked and said the Ukraine aid would remain in the bill after recognizing that another appropriations bill moving this week — funding the State Department and foreign operations — would also include money for Ukraine, and that it would be more difficult to strip from that measure. That led to Greene to being the lone GOP against advancing a package containing the two bills.
And earlier Wednesday, the House had overwhelmingly rejected an amendment from Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) to strip that very same $300 million in Ukraine funding, with 117 House Republicans joining with Democrats to reject it.
The series of events drew criticism from Democrats.
“Why go through this Kabuki theater of having an amendment vote on the floor and forcing the House to vote on something, when you know full well that if you’re going to lose that vote, you’ve still got the Rules Committee and the Speaker as a backstop, because you know he’ll capitulate to whatever demand you make?” Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) said in the hearing.
“Mr. Chairman, I have to be honest with you: This is kind of an absurd meeting,” House Rules Committee Ranking Member Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said in the Wednesday evening meeting.
“To say that this place is a clown show under Republican control is doing a disservice to actual clowns,” McGovern later added.
The funds are separate from the $24 billion supplemental funding that the White House has requested for Ukraine as it fights a Russian invasion.
Any House-passed defense spending bill will have to be adjusted and agreed to by the Senate in order to become law.