The Memo: Zelensky faces tough task in Washington as GOP skepticism grows 

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Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, will be in Washington on Thursday. This is at a time when his most important ally appears to be threatening its continued support. The Capitol Hill debate over how to avoid a shutdown of the government has brought to light the growing reluctance among Republicans to continue American support for Ukraine. Some want to see the money sent to Ukraine more closely scrutinized. “Tell us what’s going on with the money and let’s debate it in the house and not force this funding down our throats,” Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Calif.), told CBS News. Others have issued harsher warnings, and even offered veiled criticism against Zelensky. “There is no money for Ukraine in the House at this time,” Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., told reporters on Tuesday. It’s not the best time for him be here. In a CNN/SSRS survey conducted last month, a majority of Americans were opposed to Congress authorizing additional support for Ukraine. The poll found that 55 percent opposed it to 45 percent. In the same poll, the share of Americans that said the U.S. “should do more” for Ukraine dropped to 48 percent, while the 51 percent that said the U.S. had already “done too much” grew.

As CNN reported, a similar poll shortly after Russia’s invasion of February 2022 found that 62 percent said their nation should “do even more.” A national Economist/YouGov poll conducted by the end of December found that Republicans had an almost equal split between a positive and negative view of Ukraine’s president. Thirty-seven per cent had a positive opinion of him, while 35 percent did not. By contrast, only 9% of Democrats held a negative opinion of Zelensky while 60% viewed him favorably. Some Republican critics have made headlines for their particularly vivid attacks on the Ukrainian president.

Earlier in the year, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., told the Conservative Political Action Conference that Zelensky wanted “our sons and daughters go die in Ukraine.” Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., accused those who applauded wildly of engaging in “North Korea style performance” after Zelensky made his first appearance in Congress late in 2022. President Biden is seeking approval from Congress for an additional $24 billion. This would bring the total U.S. assistance to Ukraine up to $135 billion. While the much-vaunted Ukrainian offensive has been modest, there is still no end in sight to this war. The overall situation has caused concern among those who support more U.S. assistance for Ukraine.

“I’m uneasy about it,” said Robert Wilkie, who served as the U.S. secretary of Veterans Affairs and under secretary of Defense during the Trump administration.

Wilkie contended that President Biden had not made the case sharply enough to an American audience about how vital it is to thwart Russian President Vladimir Putin’s expansionist ambitions. He argued that if Russia won, it would not only be a huge victory for Putin, but also for China.

Wilkie said that Republicans who support aid are “feeling on their own.”

Others claim that the Ukraine debate has been influenced by the intensifying presidential race in 2024. Joel Rubin, a former deputy assistant secretary for State under the Obama administration, said that the window of opportunity to provide more aid to Ukraine is closing quickly.

“The more we move into the presidential campaign, the harder it will be because Donald Trump has a hostile position towards Ukraine and is likely to win the primary.”

Trump promised in vague terms that he would end the conflict in Ukraine in 24 hours if elected president. He implied that Ukraine might have to give some territory up in a deal of this kind.

Rubin is a Democratic candidate for the 6th Congressional District in Maryland. She added that if Trump is indeed the nominee “that will really hurt the congressional Republicans because they don’t want to look like they support a policy which hurts their nominee.” They will be nervous about supporting the aid to Ukraine.

Zelensky has been underrated in the past. But he is faced with a political conundrum when he makes his case. “As far I can tell, enthusiasm for American assistance in Ukraine has declined and has become more political, as everything else in American politics has done these days,” Allan Lichtman said, a history professor at American University. It becomes partisan because President Biden is associated with it,” Lichtman said. “Republicans, no matter what, are intent on opposing anything with President Biden’s name on it.”

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.

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