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Zelensky Miscalculates With Republicans

01:06, Sunday, 17 December, 2023
Zelensky Miscalculates With Republicans

Welcome back to Foreign Policy’s SitRep! Jack and Robbie here. Good news for your 2024 travel plans: If you’re heading to the beautiful country of Kenya, you will no longer need a visa come the new year—no matter where you’re from. Alright, here’s what’s on tap for the day: Zelensky’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day on Capitol Hill, the Discord leaker’s bosses are (finally) getting punished, and lawmakers lose their minds over Biden’s direct sale of tank ammo to Israel.

Bad trip
     There has been a lot of reporting on Republicans and Ukraine in recent weeks, and we at SitRep have noticed that a lot of it just isn’t that accurate. This could have big implications for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his ongoing efforts to rally bipartisan support for Ukraine and its war against Russia in the future. Let us explain…

The Biden administration combined new Ukraine support with a broader national security funding package that also tackles Taiwan, Israel, and border security and it has turned into a massive political impasse and headache for the White House.

Democrats charge that by blocking the funding package, Republicans are doing Russian President Vladimir Putin a huge favor. For Republicans, however, it’s all about the border, and Ukraine funding—which most support—is just caught in the crossfire.

And Zelensky’s latest visit to Washington this week, a last-ditch bid to get Congress to pass this large national security funding package, didn’t seem to help matters.

So what’s that mean for Ukraine? We’ve been hearing a lot from Republican supporters of Ukraine about how Zelensky’s visit this week went, and some—though not all—told us that Ukraine isn’t doing itself any favors in how it’s engaging Congress now.

“Zelensky’s visit yesterday was not good. It was completely tone-deaf and missed the point and the issues that are really at the heart of the current funding disputes,” a Republican congressional aide said. “It would have been better if he had just not come in the broader supplemental fight. It’s going to take a little bit of time to get over this.”

Zelensky’s allies in Washington seemed to think that if he just gave the right speech, in the most compelling way possible, Republicans could be convinced to fold on border negotiations and rush through the funding package as it stands. Politically, that’s just impossible to do given how the border has become such a hot-button political issue, particularly for Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson, who is trying to keep his razor-thin majority united.

Some Republicans came away impressed by Zelensky’s arguments during his meetings in Washington, describing him as articulate and clear. Others, however, came away from the visit resentful that it backed them into a corner and gave Democrats more ammunition—accurate or not—that the Republican Party is soft on Russia.

Zelensky’s push for more U.S. funding makes sense given the dire straits Ukraine faces in its war against a much larger and (on paper at least) more militarily powerful neighbor. But continuing to send billions of dollars to Ukraine is more politically sensitive for Republicans now, with the momentum the anti-Ukraine faction has, and coming to Washington to ask for more money when they’re focused primarily on southern border negotiations just puts a magnifying glass on that.

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