WASHINGTON – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Thursday made his second visit to Capitol Hill in another pitch to U.S. lawmakers to continue supporting his embattled nation’s war effort against Russia’s invasion.
But on the surface, his appearance looks to have done little to change the hearts and minds of lawmakers skeptical of providing additional assistance to Ukraine.
Zelenskyy’s stop in Washington, which included a bipartisan meeting with a group of House lawmakers and an all-senators meeting, noticeably lacked the fanfare he saw when he addressed a joint meeting of Congress last December.
President Joe Biden in August requested lawmakers to approve another $24 billion in additional aid related to Ukraine.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who has expressed reluctance to include Ukraine aid in a spending package to fund the government, declined to commit to putting Biden's ask on the House floor on Thursday.
"I think a lot of this doubt lies on President Biden. He hasn't made the case to the American public, what is victory? What does it take to be able to win?" McCarthy said. "But I believe when we're looking at where we're going right now, Zelenskky has answered a lot of questions for me."
Ahead of Zelenskyy's visit, a coalition of 28 GOP lawmakers from the Senate and House signed a letter opposing Biden’s request, arguing the White House has not done enough to persuade Congress on the war’s progress.
“It would be an absurd abdication of congressional responsibility to grant this request,” the letter reads.
Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio., who led the letter opposing the White House’s request for a supplemental, told reporters Thursday he did not bother to attend Zelenskyy’s all-senators meeting and derided his visit as a “farce.”
“I think that the entire thing is a bit of a farce. Zelenskyy comes and speaks to us for 45 minutes. I didn’t attend because we were given guidance this morning that we wouldn’t likely be given the opportunity to ask a question,” Vance said. “So what is the purpose of him coming here if not to allow the American people’s elected representatives to ask him questions.”
The White House on Wednesday night gave a classified briefing on the war effort to senators, which Vance said he did attend. Vance said he was “actually really disappointed” and added the briefing offered little chance for lawmakers to ask questions.
House Republicans’ proposed stopgap spending measure to avert a shutdown – referred to as a continuing resolution – noticeably omits Ukraine aid. McCarthy, who attended the bipartisan House meeting with Zelenskyy, called the discussion “productive,” but he raised concerns to the Ukrainian president about “accountability” and transparency in how the U.S. is aiding the war-torn country.
McCarthy also confirmed that he turned down a request to let Zelenskyy address the American public from the House floor. He told reporters Thursday they “don’t have the time” to host a joint meeting given Congress is still working to avert a shutdown. He said the request for a joint session came roughly a week before Zelenskyy’s visit.
“We don’t have the time for a joint session. He’s already provided a joint session,” McCarthy said, adding he’s given Zelenskyy the same treatment Congress has provided to other visits from foreign leaders.
Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Thursday there was “universal support” for Ukraine at the meeting. McCaul, one of House Republicans’ strongest proponents of continued support for Ukraine, said he pressed national security adviser Jake Sullivan to rally stronger support for the war effort in a closed-door meeting earlier this month. He laid the blame at the White House’s feet for falling support for Ukraine aid among GOP lawmakers.
“This war of attrition is not going to win. You've got to give them everything they need or get out,” McCaul said. “It’s been a slow walk and this thing has been mismanaged and that’s why they’re losing support from my side because they don’t want to support a losing effort.”
Sullivan said he had meetings with Republican and Democratic leaders from both chambers about the Ukraine war. He argued at a White House news briefing on Thursday that support for Ukraine continues to be broad and a small but vocal minority is holding assistance up.
“Speaker McCarthy has himself been an advocate for the supply of military assistance to Ukraine, has voted for previous packages and Republicans in both the House and Senate in very large numbers have been strong advocates and supporters for this," Sullivan said. “It is that level of bipartisan support that we have seen to date that have sustained the immense and impressive levels of assistance that we have been able to provide to Ukraine.”
The White House also announced a new military aid package on Thursday that Sullivan said will help Ukraine through what is likely to be a tough winter and maintain the gains it has made in its counteroffensive.
The Senate is seeing mostly bipartisan support for continued U.S. aid to Ukraine. Following Zelenskyy’s all-senators briefing, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations committee and Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., co-chair of the U.S. Senate NATO Observer Group released a joint statement advocating for Ukraine support.
“The quickest way to end this war is for Congress to continue to provide Ukraine with the assistance it needs to defeat Putin and his unprovoked attempt to overrun a sovereign nation,” the statement read.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Zelenskyy asks Congress for more Ukraine aid to win war against Russia