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US Republican leader refuses to guarantee $24 billion for Zelensky

Kevin McCarthy wants to talk to the Ukrainian president before writing another check for Kiev

Kevin McCarthy briefs reporters at the Capitol in Washington DC, September 19, 2023 ©  AP / J. Scott Applewhite

US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has refused to commit another $24 billion to Ukraine, telling reporters that he “has questions” for Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky first. With American military aid to Kiev dried up, disagreement on authorizing another funding package threatens to grind Washington to a halt.

Zelensky is due to meet with lawmakers on Capitol Hill during a visit to Washington on Thursday. Ahead of the meeting, McCarthy was asked on Tuesday whether he would pledge $24 billion in military and economic aid to the Ukrainian president, as US President Joe Biden has requested.

“Is Zelensky elected to Congress?” McCarthy responded. “Is he our president? I don’t think I have to commit anything and I think I have questions for him.”

“Where’s the accountability on the money we’ve already spent?” the Republican leader continued. “What is the plan for victory? I think that’s what the American public wants to know.”

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In the US Senate, the top Republican and Democrat leaders – Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer – want the $24 billion attached to a wider funding bill that must be passed before the end of the month to keep the government running. McCarthy wants any money for Ukraine to be discussed as a standalone bill, while a small group of hardline conservatives in the House want the broad funding bill replaced with individual bills for individual government agencies. 

This group, dubbed the ‘Freedom Caucus’, backed McCarthy’s speakership last year in exchange for the right to remove him from the position. Most members of the ‘Freedom Caucus’ are politically aligned with former President Donald Trump, and oppose further US aid to Ukraine.

“There’s no money in the House right now for Ukraine. It’s not there,” Rep. Byron Donalds told The Recount on Tuesday. “To be blunt, we’re running a $2 trillion deficit. Any money we give to Ukraine, we’re borrowing from our future.”

“It’s not a good time for [Zelensky] to be here, quite frankly,” Donalds added.

The US has allocated a total of $113 billion in aid to Ukraine since Russia launched its military operation last February, including more than $43 billion worth of arms, ammunition, and other military equipment. 

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