WASHINGTON — House Republican leaders spotlighted Ukraine aid oversight in hearings Tuesday while pushing the Biden administration to deliver better equipment faster, even as they prepare for an intraparty clash with the right-flank of their caucus later this year over additional assistance for Kyiv.
Lawmakers used the hearings to grill Pentagon officials on their methodology for monitoring the influx of U.S. arms into Ukraine after Congress passed a cumulative $113 billion in military and economic assistance for Kyiv following Russia’s invasion last year. Defense Department officials testified that there has been no misuse of U.S. assistance but also revealed that they would need to ask Congress for additional Ukraine aid over the long haul.
“The subcommittee needs to hear what Ukraine’s critical needs are and how we can expedite delivery of equipment,” House defense spending panel Chairman Ken Calvert, R-Calif., said at the hearing he convened. “The subcommittee will not be writing blank checks. In order to receive funding, there should be a plan and the details required to justify the need for funding.
“Funding provided will be followed by rigorous oversight on the use of funds to ensure they are used as Congress intended,” he added. “American taxpayers deserve no less.”
Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl and Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Celeste Wallander both testified that there is no evidence that U.S. military equipment has been diverted from the front lines in Ukraine.
The Pentagon, State Department and USAID Inspectors General also released a multi-year joint strategic oversight plan in January, which House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Ala., has endorsed.
Rogers noted at an Armed Services Committee hearing on Tuesday that “oversight is about more than just accounting,” continuing his push to convince the Biden administration to send Ukraine more advanced weaponry such as long-range missiles.
“It’s about ensuring the administration is setting strategic goals and implementing a policy to achieve them,” said Rogers. “This is where I have very real concerns. Since the beginning, the President has been overly worried that giving Ukraine what it needs to win would be too escalatory.”
Congress provided the Defense Department with $61.4 billion in emergency military aid for Ukraine over four supplemental spending packages last year. The last package – attached to the government funding bill Congress passed in December – included $27.9 billion in additional Ukraine military aid, which the Biden administration hopes will last through the end of the fiscal year in September.
Wallander warned that the Biden administration may have to ask Congress for additional Ukraine funding before then and noted that “there is work ongoing” to build the heightened Ukraine assistance levels into the Defense Department base budget. The White House is expected to release its fiscal 2014 budget proposal on March 9. At the same time, she could not predict how much more military aid Ukraine would require over the next year.
“As we think about assessing at the end of the summer where the battlefield stands – what it looks like – because we’ll need to be thinking about these longer-term investments in a modern Ukrainian military,” Wallander said, warning that Moscow would use any potential ceasefire to prepare for another invasion attempt.
“I know it’s not the answer everyone wants to hear,” she added. “We’d like to think the Russian leadership will wake up and go home and leave Ukraine alone, but the indications are quite the opposite.”
With Congress likely to consider additional Ukraine spending before the end of the year – either through an emergency spending supplemental or the regular appropriations process – conservative skeptics of that assistance will have an opportunity to flex their new clout over House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.
The second Ukraine aid supplemental passed Congress last May with 57 House Republicans voting against it. McCarthy – who voted for that package – made several concessions to those Ukraine aid skeptics to secure the votes to win his protracted speakership battle, including a House rules change that would allow any member to initiative a vote to remove him as speaker.
McCarthy has also agreed to $130 billion in discretionary spending cuts, further complicating matters if congressional leaders seek to add billions more in Ukraine funding through the regular appropriations process.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., fired the opening salvo in the next Ukraine funding battle last week, decrying the “the Biden administration and the idiots I work with in Congress that are leading us into World War III and going to hurt America like never before” in a Fox News interview. She re-introduced a resolution on Friday that would require President Joe Biden, Defense Secretary of Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken to give Congress all documents related to Ukraine spending.
Taylor Greene used expedited House procedures to force a vote on similar legislation in December, but Democrats who controlled the House Foreign Affairs Committee at the time argued that it was overly broad and voted it down. Yet Republicans on the committee unanimously supported it, including Rep. Mike McCaul, R-Texas, a Ukraine aid proponent who now chairs the panel.
Notably, some Republican hawks on the defense spending panel who have also supported Ukraine aid raised reservations at the Tuesday hearing about the war’s end goals and its potential length.
Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, for instance addressed the thorny question of whether the U.S. should support Ukraine’s ultimate goal of retaking Crimea by force.
“I’m afraid that our goals in general and President [Volodymyr] Zelenskyy’s goals may not be aligned” said Stewart.
And Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Calif., referred to reports that China may provide weapons to Russia, arguing that “they can make it rain better than we can tread water in Ukraine.”
“I’m sitting here on [appropriations],” said Garcia. “I sit on [Intelligence], and I don’t know if this is a one-year problem, a six-month problem or a 10-year problem. And it’s tough for the American people to get behind something like that without definitive sell-off criteria.”
Bryant Harris is the Congress reporter for Defense News. He has covered U.S. foreign policy, national security, international affairs and politics in Washington since 2014. He has also written for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.