In a recent hometown gathering in Omaha, Republican Rep. Don Bacon faced a fiery constituent who, like a growing faction of conservatives, questioned the massive flow of American resources to Ukraine. This man demanded to know why Bacon believed it’s still in America’s best interest to bankroll this ongoing war after 18 months.
Bacon, a retired Air Force general, didn’t hold back. He argued that Russia launched its invasion because Ukraine was aligning itself with the United States, becoming more democratic, and posing a genuine threat to President Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian rule and his desire to rebuild the Kremlin’s lost empire.
“I told the town hall,” Bacon later stated in an interview, “When I was a kid, if you had a bully on the playground, that bully never stops unless he gets punched in the nose. We’ve got to stand up to Putin here.” However, he emphasized the need for accountability, saying, “We shouldn’t just hand a blank check to Biden. He must justify why he needs this.”
This Nebraska showdown epitomizes the mounting tension within the Republican Party, and to some extent, among a handful of Democrats, as Congress grapples with the contentious issue of how much support President Biden can receive to sustain Ukraine and for how long. Attitudes toward Ukraine are shifting, Capitol Hill feels the pressure as elections loom, and Ukraine’s summer offensive has achieved limited gains. As a result, securing congressional approval for future funding requests is expected to become increasingly challenging.
In August, the White House submitted a supplemental budget request for $40 billion, with over half allocated to assist Ukraine and bolster NATO allies’ defenses. If approved, this would bring total U.S. investment to $135 billion. However, this request has triggered a fierce internal conflict within the GOP, with some pushing for a price tag of zero on future assistance.
Republican leaders, Democrats, and the White House maintain that the majority of Congress continues to support Ukraine. Nonetheless, the America-first agenda is causing upheaval among moderate Republicans, as they strive to align support for Ukraine with conservative fiscal values and U.S. national security interests, while countering claims that it might lead to another “forever war.”
For the historically hawkish Republican Party, the battle over Ukraine aid symbolizes a broader struggle to define its identity, a question expected to intensify in the upcoming election cycle.
Amidst this turmoil, influential Republican backers of Ukraine argue that Biden’s support has been insufficient, stressing that continuous aid is vital for Ukraine’s survival and to weaken Russia’s capacity to threaten the West. Yet, voices within the party, including former President Trump, question the security assistance program’s efficacy.
The GOP’s internal clash over Ukraine is also influenced by the ongoing Republican presidential primary race, where Trump’s strong lead contrasts with others advocating continued support for Ukraine.
As the debate rages on, it remains uncertain when or if Speaker Kevin McCarthy will bring Biden’s latest funding request to a vote in the Republican-led House.
This ideological divide reflects the changing sentiments of the American people, with polls showing a growing minority, particularly within the Republican Party, advocating reduced aid to Ukraine. Democrats, too, have voiced concerns about the level of assistance, advocating for more domestic spending.
While the White House remains hopeful about securing additional funding for Ukraine, both parties express frustration with the administration’s ability to effectively communicate the importance of this support to their constituents.
As the geopolitical landscape evolves, lawmakers grapple with the question of America’s role in Ukraine and whether the American public’s patience will endure.