Overnight Defense

Defense & National Security — What the midterms mean for US role in Ukraine war

A Ukrainian solder walks down a road
Associated Press/Kostiantyn Liberov
Ukrainian soldiers stand on the road in the freed territory of the Kharkiv region, Ukraine, on Sept. 12, 2022.

The midterm elections, which are largely being fought over inflation, crime and other domestic issues, could have a huge impact on America’s role in the Russia-Ukraine war. 

We’ll share why that is, plus how the midterms could also affect the future of the Jan. 6 panel, a new air defense weapons shipment to Ukraine and a trainer jet crash in Mississippi. 

This is Defense & National Security, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. For The Hill, I’m Ellen Mitchell.

How the midterms could impact Russia-Ukraine war

The midterm elections, which are largely being fought over inflation, crime and other domestic issues, could have a huge impact on America’s role in the Russia-Ukraine war.  

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the likely Speaker in a GOP majority, has talked about how Ukraine would not get a “blank check” from the U.S. with Republicans in control of the House.   

‘A freight train coming’: GOP victories by pro-Trump candidates in the House and Senate could also amplify isolationist voices that have questioned the Biden administration’s steady spending in support of Ukraine.   

“I just see a freight train coming, and that is Trump and his operation turning against aid for Ukraine,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told MSNBC last month, underscoring a widely-held concern among Democrats. He added that there could be “a real crisis where the House Republican majority would refuse to support additional aid to Ukraine.” 

Statements from GOP lawmakers such as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.) have added to the anxiety. During a rally last week, she said a GOP majority would not spend “another penny” on Ukraine.   

Overall support: To be sure, there are many voices within the GOP that have been highly supportive of Ukraine during the conflict with Russia, including Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.).   

Sen. James Risch (Idaho) and Rep. Michael McCaul (Texas), the top Republicans on the Foreign Affairs committees in each chamber, have been leading voices in support of arming Ukraine, often pushing for Biden to do more.    

Danielle Pletka, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a former Republican Senate foreign policy staff member, said a majority of Republicans want to back Ukraine against Russia’s aggression.   

The first test?: But it is also true that McCarthy’s comments reflect skepticism about U.S. economic and military support for Ukraine within his conference. 

And the first test of GOP resistance to additional Ukraine aid could come before the end of this session, with the Biden administration expected to push for another aid package during the lame-duck period before January. 

Read the full story here 

HERE’S WHAT HAPPENS TO JAN. 6 PANEL IF GOP WINS HOUSE 

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol is set to dissolve no matter who wins Tuesday’s midterm elections — but a GOP takeover of the House leaves a near-zero chance it will be revived.  

The panel, like all other select committees established this Congress, will sunset with the start of the next Congress in January.   

A thorn in the GOP’s side: Republican leaders such as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) have given no sign they intend to keep the committee that has been a thorn in their side and prompted former President Trump to criticize the GOP’s decision to boycott it. 

The Cinderella effectThe panel’s current members have been quick to acknowledge the so-called Cinderella effect for their committee.   

“At the end of a Congress … our carriage turns into a pumpkin. So we’ve got no wheels after that. So we’ve got to make everything happen this year,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) told reporters earlier this year. 

Two outcomes: If Democrats win, they could reinitiate the panel, which has unearthed new details about the riot and has made clear it continues to gather evidence. 

If Democrats maintain control of the House, carrying over a select committee conducting an investigation wouldn’t be unprecedented. Republicans did so with the Benghazi committee, extending the 2014 investigation into the end of 2016. 

Some Democratic lawmakers have suggested the party needs to seize on the two-month window, lest the GOP take over.  

“We actually need to get it done,” Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) told The Hill in October. “Because if the House flips, which I don’t think it will, but if it does, Kevin McCarthy’s not going to do anything to protect this country.” 

Read the rest here 

Pentagon says first NASAMS has reached Ukraine

Ukraine has received its first delivery of the long-awaited National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System (NASAMS), a major weapon meant to boost Kyiv in its nearly nine-month war with Moscow.  

The NASAMS air defense system, meant to knock down Russian drones, ballistic missiles or manned aircraft, will “significantly strengthen” Ukraine’s forces, the country’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov announced online on Monday

A big gain: Pentagon press secretary and Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder on Tuesday confirmed that the NASAMS had been delivered. He said the advanced system “will contribute to Ukraine’s air defense capabilities and will help protect the Ukrainian people against Russian aerial attacks to include those conducted by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) or cruise missiles.”  

Sped up: The U.S. government committed eight NASAMS to Ukraine in July, and last month announced it would accelerate shipments following a Russian missile barrage on Kyiv and other cities that was intended to target civilians and infrastructure. 

Adding an ‘arrow to the quiver’: The NASAMS are critical to the fight, as the ground-based system provides short- to medium-range protection and are the same defenses used to protect the skies of Washington, D.C., since 2005.   

“It does provide a significant air defense capability in the sense that it can protect against – as I mentioned — UAV attacks, both armed and unarmed. It can defend against helicopters, cruise missiles, as well as crewed aircraft. Basically, any type of advanced aerial threat that Russia may try to employ against Ukrainian targets or civilians,” Ryder said.  

“It does add an extra arrow to the quiver, so to speak, for Ukrainian air defense,” he added. 

A continued plea: Even with the new air defense system, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky continues to press Western leaders for additional lethal aid, last week asking the leaders of the Group of Seven nations for such help.  

“We must ensure full protection of the Ukrainian sky,” Zelensky said Saturday. 

Read that story here 

PILOT EJECTS AHEAD OF T-38 TRAINING JET CRASH IN MISSISSIPPI

An instructor pilot in Mississippi had to eject from a T-38 Talon training jet Monday after an unknown malfunction caused the plane to crash shortly after takeoff.  

The details: The jet from Columbus Air Force Base, Miss., crashed around 1 p.m. local time south of the base on private property. 

Emergency officials from the base took the instructor to a nearby hospital and no fatalities were reported, according to a press release from the 14th Flying Training Wing.  

“We had a T-38C flying with the 49th Fighter Training Squadron that was rendered inoperable and unrecoverable upon initial takeoff,” Col. Jeremy Bergin, the base’s vice wing commander, later told reporters during a press conference Monday evening.  

About the plane: The T-38 is a two-seat, supersonic aircraft, though only the instructor pilot was flying in the jet ahead of the crash. 

The Air Force — along with the Navy and NASA — uses the T-38 to train pilots across the country but has planned to phase it out for a new Boeing-made aircraft known as the T-7A Red Hawk. The first of those aircraft won’t be delivered until at least 2023.   

A string of crashes: The Air Force has experienced a series of noncombat crashes involving the T-38 in recent years, some deadly. 

In February 2021, an instructor and student pilot in a T-38 from Columbus AFB crashed and died while training outside of Montgomery, Ala. 

Prior to that in November 2019, two airmen were killed in “an aircraft mishap” involving two trainer jets at Vance Air Force Base in Oklahoma.  

And in May 2018, two pilots were forced to eject from a T-38 near Columbus AFB before the plane crashed in a remote part of northeast Mississippi.   

An ongoing investigation: Bergin said it is still unknown what caused the aircraft to malfunction but that there is an “active investigation” into the matter. 

He also said that every investigation “is going to find items worthy of future consideration, and we won’t know what those items are until after the investigation completes,” adding that “if there is something that requires us to change our procedures, we will.” 

Read the full story here 

ON TAP TOMORROW

  • The Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association and Naval Intelligence Professionals Navy Information Warfare will hold an  Industry Day forum at 8 a.m.  
  • The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace will host a virtual discussion on “U.S.-China Relations After the Midterms,” at 8 a.m.  
  • The Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association Belvoir will hold its third and final day of its “Industry Days” forum, at 8:15 a.m.   
  • Brookings Institution will host a virtual talk on “Xi’s Sweep: Beyond China’s 20th Party Congress,” with panel discussions on Chinese domestic politics and China’s foreign policy, at 9 a.m. 
  • The Government Executive Media Group and Washington Technology will hold a “Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification 2.0 Ecosystem Summit,” 9 a.m.  
  • Heritage Foundation will discuss “What China’s Strategic Breakout Means for the U.S,” with Brad Roberts, former deputy assistant defense secretary for nuclear and missile defense policy, at 10 a.m. 

WHAT WE’RE READING

That’s it for today! Check out The Hill’s Defense and National Security pages for the latest coverage. See you tomorrow!

Tags Chris Murphy Kevin McCarthy McCarthy Ukraine aid ukraine war Volodymyr Zelensky

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