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Congressional Gridlock: The Impact of Trump’s Impeachment on Ukraine’s Military Support

As President Zelensky meets President Biden and the White House approves $200 million in support to Ukraine, Zarina Zabrisky looks at the reasons why the funding faces deadlock in the US Congress in December and assesses the potentially disastrous effect of delay on Ukraine.

President Joe Biden and President Volodymyr Zelensky arrive for a joint press conference following their meeting at the White House in Washington DC, 12 December 2023. Photo: Newscom/Alamy Live News

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In the frontline city of Kherson, South Ukraine, Victoria told Byline Times about her disappointment in the United States’ foreign policy. A longtime resident, she survived the Russian occupation, flood, and lives through daily shelling. To the ongoing cannonade of artillery fire, she said, “We are deeply offended. We are dying here daily and did not expect the stab in the back”.

Victoria’s claim is hardly an exaggeration. Kherson has been deeply affected by the ongoing conflict. From 1 to 11 December 2023, the Kherson Region witnessed 836 attacks, averaging 86 per day, with 4,834 shells, including missiles, targeting civilian areas. Nine civilians were killed and 48 injured. The political deadlock in the US Congress has left many, like Victoria, feeling betrayed and disheartened.

Ukrainians see the US Congress blocking of the military aid as the failure of Biden’s foreign policy that undermines US credibility on a global scale. Many worldwide would agree. The geopolitical consequences of the US indecision are dire, and the implications extend far beyond Ukraine. Just hours after the meeting between Zelensky and Biden and the press conference in the White House, Kyiv faced a ballistic missile attack, with 51 civilians injured: a non-verbal response to the US indecision. Kremlin propagandists openly express their gratitude to the US Congress. Other countries like China will take note.

“Ukraine is a border,” says Olga, a small business owner in Kherson. Her grocery store was flooded after the Russian troops blew up the Nova Khakhovka Dam and has been shelled four times during the last nine months. “How can you not protect your border? The Russian Federation will not stop in Ukraine.”

Protecting borders is the very reason the US Republicans use to put a plug in the military aid to Ukraine. A closer look at the situation will reveal it is not so.


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Emergency Appropriations Bill Blockage

On 6 December 2023, all 49 Republican senators blocked the White House’s emergency appropriations bill, including $61 billion aid to Ukraine, $14 billion aid to Israel, $14 billion for southern US border security, appropriations for Taiwan, and US submarine fleet modernization.

The blockage stems from several reasons. Republicans question the effectiveness of additional aid for Ukraine, citing uncertainties in war aims and spending, and doubt the impact of more assistance following a less successful summer offensive. However, the predominant concern among Republicans seemingly centers on US border protection needs. House Speaker Mike Johnson firmly links US aid to Ukraine with immigration reforms, citing national security as the primary motivation.

Republicans condition the bill adoption on immigration law changes. Requirements include a ban on third-country nationals seeking asylum or refugee status after illegally crossing the US-Mexico border; cancellation of the President’s right to grant temporary asylum with work rights to foreign citizens (based on this right, the US President Joe Biden approved the programme for accepting 100,000 refugees from Ukraine in the US); tightening conditions for asylum applications and internment of asylum seekers during processing. President Biden accused Republicans of holding Ukraine funding “hostage for a partisan border agenda.”

The Republicans’ goal is limiting immigration to satisfy the party electorate during the election year. Despite studies disproving a link between rising immigration and crime in the US, the isolationist Republican Party persists in associating the two. Republicans aim to limit entry opportunities for immigrants from El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Haiti, and Venezuela. This long-standing goal also aligns with the former US President Donald Trump’s promises.

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Trump Influence and Primaries

The influence of former President Trump looms large over these proceedings. Trump’s likely dominance in Republican primaries starting in February 2024 may further hinder support for aid to Ukraine.The Congress, including moderate Republicans, may deter from contradicting the party leader—and border protection is not the deciding factor in this development.

In the dynamic and eventful political landscape of the past five years, it may escape the memory of the US mass media and the public that the blockage of military aid to Ukraine did not originate in 2023. Recall Trump’s impeachment over a Ukraine scandal in 2019.

The former US President blocked a $400 million military aid package to Ukraine, attempting to secure quid pro quo cooperation by seeking damaging narratives on the Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and misinformation about Russian interference from Ukraine. Trump conditioned official acts on Ukraine’s announcement of investigations, withholding a White House meeting with Zelensky and military assistance to Ukraine. Trump’s surrogates, including Rudy Giuliani and Attorney General William Barr, pressured Ukraine into the deal.

After Trump’s actions were revealed by a whistleblower complaint, the aid to Ukraine was released. An impeachment inquiry prompted by concerns about foreign interference followed in September 2019. Formal charges included abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The House Intelligence Committee report detailed Trump’s solicitation of Ukraine’s interference for personal gain. House of Representatives approved articles of impeachment, but Trump was acquitted by the Senate. In January 2020, the Government Accountability Office concluded that the White House violated federal law by withholding Congress-approved military aid to Ukraine.

Zelensky’s Visit

Seeking a compromise on the bill, Zelensky made a personal appeal to Biden and lawmakers on Capitol Hill during his 11-12 December visit to the US. Meetings with senators and Speaker Johnson were held to seek support. The results of the meetings are unclear. Speaker Johnson, post-meeting, urged the White House to offer “clarity and detail” on Ukraine’s strategy against Russia before endorsing additional funding. Given that the US Congress is going on holiday until 2-3 January 2024, the resolution of the conflict is unlikely.

Positive developments followed the visit, including Biden’s approval of allocating $200 million in support, with the aid package including “very important equipment, ammunition, artillery.” During his visit, Zelensky discussed creating a European defense hub with US defense companies, considered by some analysts a critical step. He also noted Ukraine’s decreasing dependency on aid.

The unblocking of the military aid bill remains a burning priority. “If there’s anyone inspired by unresolved issues on Capitol Hill, it’s just Putin and his sick clique,” Zelenskyy told the audience at National Defense University. “They see their dreams come true when they see the delays and scandals. They see freedom falling when the support of freedom fighters goes down. People like Putin shouldn’t even hope to conquer freedom.”

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