Key Republicans Launch Two-Part Plan to Pressure Biden on Ukraine
National security committee leaders in Congress are waging a public campaign to signal they support sending more advanced weapons to Ukraine–and faster than Biden is allowing.
Republicans have launched a two-front campaign to pressure the Biden administration in the coming months into sending more advanced weapons to Ukraine, including some the president has so far been reluctant to provide. But the conservatives' push comes with the expectation of more and faster progress by Ukraine, as polls indicate declining support for the effort to arm Ukraine, particularly among Republicans.
The first part of the dual campaign is to conduct closed-door classified information gatherings in Congress, like the recent classified Senate Armed Services Committee briefing that included Celeste Wallander, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs and William LaPlante, the under secretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, according to two people with direct knowledge of current discussions within Republican leadership.
The second part is a public-facing campaign to call on President Joe Biden to provide things like Grey Eagle drones, and the long-range Army Tactical Missile System, or ATACMS, which would help Ukraine strike at the Russian artillery batteries continuously lobbing missiles at Ukrainian forces. Kyiv has been requesting ATACMS since the start of the war, but the requests have grown louder as the United States approved other pieces of equipment it previously resisted, such as M-1 Abrams tanks.
The public portion of the Republicans’ campaign could take a variety of forms. Virtually every Armed Services Committee hearing in the House and Senate provides opportunity for comment, the two individuals said. Lawmakers could also speak on the issue during floor speeches and media engagements.
Last week, in a Senate floor speech Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., made the case for giving Ukraine ATACMS and Grey Eagle and Reaper drones. “We should deliver these assets quickly to make an immediate difference on the battlefield. In concert with our allies, this approach of ‘more, better, faster’ would give the Ukrainians a real shot at victory,” he said. He doubled down on that message on Friday, calling the most recent aid package to Ukraine "the same unnecessary slow-walking that has gotten us to this point."
Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., the new chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, has also publicly signaled support for sending ATACMS to Ukraine.
With their message, several Republicans atop key national security committees are trying to show that not only do they support Ukraine, they will do so more enthusiastically than Democrats and the White House.
Rebeccah Heinrichs, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, told Defense One: "If you notice a lot of the arguments that people like Sen. Wicker, and Congressman Rogers, and all those, and even Sen. [Tom] Cotton–they've been arguing that the way to end the war is to speed up the delivery of these weapons in order to enable Ukraine to prevail. That's the argument they're making: If you want the war to end, this is the way you do it.”
But to sell the war to the American people, Republicans are less likely to echo Biden talking points on democracy and international order, and expected to focus more on the weapons and their cost, while maintaining enough defense spending and protecting the depleted U.S. arsenal to deter China
“There's no top cover from the administration that explains why this is important without resorting to talk about ‘upholding the rules-based order’--that is just not persuasive to ordinary Americans,” said one of the sources.
Republicans will continue challenging some of the Biden administration’s key assertions, especially that the U.S. military industrial base can accommodate both the Ukraine support effort and the mission of preventing China from invading Taiwan in the next five years. Administration assurances that equipping Ukraine does not undermine U.S. military readiness are unconvincing, they said. “There's going to be renewed and continuing focus on China, Taiwan, and the defense industrial base. And there's no question that replenishing the defense industrial base is a big part of the Ukraine story.”
Republicans also will focus more on accounting for aid packages, particularly in light of two decades of questionable military aid in previous conflicts, especially in Afghanistan, the individuals said.
The Defense Department inspector general recently announced new accounting and tracking operations in Ukraine. But the individuals said that, so far, the story on tracking and managing weapons is primarily a “good” one for Ukraine, which moved swiftly to oust officials charged with corruption.
The added scrutiny could also reassure voters who perceive Ukraine as innately corrupt, Heinrichs said.
Some members of the new house Republican majority openly question U.S. support for Ukraine under almost every circumstance. Heinrichs said while the populist contingent of the Republican party, as championed by Reps. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., and Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., is relatively small, the progressive wing of the Democratic party, which has also voiced skepticism about the continuing efforts to support Ukraine, is much larger and may find common cause with some those Republicans on this issue.
She pointed to the letter sent by 30 progressive House members last summer urging Biden to engage in direct talks with Russia to end the war. They later retracted the letter, but Heinrichs says that’s not necessarily because they had a change of heart.
"The Progressive Caucus, they went quiet going into the midterms because they had their letter yanked...That is a pretty serious faction in the Democratic party. I think it's something that we haven't grappled with: how they're going to move forward on the Ukraine issue now that we're past the election. I mean, they are much closer to the populist wing, [of the Republicans] than, than everybody else" on this issue, she said.
Still, the rising resistance from both the far left and the far right could actually be a gift to those looking to accelerate aid to Ukraine now, while it’s still politically feasible to do so, according to the two individuals. The Republicans’ strategy will also remind the administration that support for the war is dropping among Republican voters. While Biden administration officials are fond of saying U.S. support for the war will continue for “as long as it takes,” Republicans will be much more eager to see progress.
“My sense is that the administration is way overestimating the amount of time that they have, that even members who are, let's just say, somewhere in between the defense hawks and the America-first types want to see progress, want to see results, and not play for a stalemate.”
Heinrcihs argued that the slowly-eroding support shows the Biden administration isn’t managing the window of opportunity for victory in Ukraine well, and believes that the longer the war continues, the greater chance that NATO members also will grow impatient and lose support among their publics, as well.
"You need to go hard and fast, rather than carry this thing out,” she said. “It’s bad clock management.”