Armed Services Committee Republican says ‘vast majority’ of GOP supports US assistance to Ukraine
Republican Rep. Michael Waltz (Fla.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said the majority of the Republican caucus supports U.S. assistance to Ukraine amid concerns that a GOP-controlled House following the November elections may push back on billions of dollars of military and economic aid provided to Kyiv.
“I think the vast majority of the conference realizes that we either pay now or pay later, that Russian President Vladimir Putin fully intends, if he takes Ukraine, to move on to NATO-allied countries like the Baltics, and Poland and Finland,” he told The Hill in a phone interview Tuesday.
Waltz’s comments follow remarks from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) that House Republicans will not write a “blank check” for Ukraine if they take control of the lower chamber of Congress after the midterm elections.
Waltz, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan and the first Green Beret elected to Congress, said GOP criticism of assistance to Ukraine stems from a failure by the Biden administration to answer calls for strict oversight.
“The issue is, and this is where members are raising concern, is we have no oversight of where this aid is going and exactly how it’s being used,” said Waltz, who stressed he supports oversight to follow the effectiveness of the assistance when pressed if he thinks the military and economic assistance is being misused.
“It’s not that it’s being misused, but this is all new equipment and new systems, how is the maintenance going? How is the logistics being handled? Are many of these systems breaking down? It’s about using it effectively. It’s a lot of money, a lot of support.”
The U.S. has provided an estimated $18.3 billion in military assistance to Ukraine and about $10 billion in economic and humanitarian assistance that is credited as key in helping push back Russian forces and keep Ukraine functioning amid eight months of war.
But Republicans are increasingly facing turmoil within their ranks between those who argue full-throated support for Ukraine — albeit with oversight — and a small, but provocative group that have their base in former President Trump’s “Make America Great Again” movement that promotes an isolationist foreign policy.
Even among the party’s mainstream conservatives, who say they support sending more military aid to Ukraine, skepticism is building over nonmilitary economic and humanitarian assistance. Influential outside groups like Heritage Action, the advocacy arm of the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation, lobbied against a $40 billion aid package in May.
Waltz traveled to Ukraine in July and met there with President Volodymyr Zelensky, who he said welcomed transparency in monitoring U.S. assistance.
That aid is expected to grow as Russia has stepped up its attacks on Ukraine in recent days — killing civilians and destroying infrastructure in the capital and across the country. The Russian assault has come in response to pressure on Putin over embarrassing military defeats and as the Ukrainian armed forces have routed the Russian military from key territorial areas.
Republicans’ scrutiny of U.S. assistance to Ukraine is expected to be only part of a long list of GOP criticism of the Biden administration in the areas of national security and foreign policy. Top of mind for lawmakers is the August, 2021, withdrawal from Afghanistan and collapse of the Western-backed government in Kabul and takeover by the Taliban.
The withdrawal was widely recognized as a chaotic end after a more than $2 trillion investment in the country, on top of thousands of casualties among U.S. service members, allied troops and Afghans over the course of two decades.
Waltz told The Hill there are conversations on the House Armed Services Committee, along with the Foreign Affairs and Intelligence panels, to establish a select committee to investigate President Biden’s Afghanistan withdrawal.
Lawmakers have criticized how the Biden administration handled the withdrawal, with a last-minute evacuation that airlifted more than 100,000 people out of the country, but left hundreds of Americans and thousands of Afghan partners behind. A suicide bombing in the midst of the chaos killed 13 U.S. service members.
“The structure of it, hasn’t fully taken shape yet, because we have lots of things to investigate — origin of [COVID-19], the border, [Biden’s son] Hunter Biden, China, there’s just a lot — sadly there’s a lot of competing demands of what we’re going to look into but, leadership has committed to drive accountability for the debacle that was that withdrawal,” Waltz said.
Meanwhile, the Florida Republican on Wednesday sent a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin criticizing the Pentagon for missing a March deadline to brief Congress about its efforts to catalog the operational and intelligence from Afghanistan that was collected over the past 20 years, as required under the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act.
The letter, which was shared exclusively with The Hill, raises concern that al Qaeda is taking root in Afghanistan and could necessitate the return of American forces to counter a terrorist threat. In July, the Biden administration targeted and killed with a drone strike al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri at his apartment in Kabul.
“We must ensure the lessons learned from the two-decade conflict are not lost or misplaced. The operational and intelligence data from Afghanistan is important for a holistic understanding of the war and must be accessible if future campaigns in Afghanistan occur,” Waltz wrote.
In conversation with The Hill, Waltz said that an organized intelligence catalog is necessary in the event U.S. soldiers are required to go back into Afghanistan for counter terrorist threats.
“Where is all of the operational data of what villages we were in, who we spoke with, which tribe was with us, which tribe was against us, where were all the ambush locations, where is all of that so that that future Ranger company commander, that’s having to go back because ISIS and Al Qaeda have reconstituted themselves, where is that one place where all of that’s been, not just cataloged, but is usable and an interface that future American soldiers, should we have to go back, can use it,” he said.
The Pentagon did not return a request for comment.
Emily Brooks contributed to this report.
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