By Katherine Gypson
U.S. President Joe Biden has strong bipartisan support in Congress for his latest $33 billion aid request for Ukraine, in addition to the $13.6 billion in economic, humanitarian and military assistance already sent earlier this year.
In recent visits to Ukraine and Poland, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Congress was working quickly to pass Biden’s request, calling the aid package “an enormous amount of money” that lawmakers were “very proud” to provide.
But a handful of lawmakers on both the right and the left have raised concerns about the expansion of presidential authority to support a conflict in Europe. While Biden has made clear the U.S. will never commit ground forces to Ukraine to openly oppose Russia, the massive amount of support has revived questions about presidential war powers and the scope of American involvement overseas following two decades of war in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Ten of the 206 House Republicans voted against the Ukraine Lend-Lease Act, legislation that eased restrictions on Biden’s ability to transfer U.S. weapons to Ukraine. No Democrats voted against the bill.
Conservative Congressman Thomas Massie explained his vote against Lend-Lease, saying language of the legislation defined defensive weapons too broadly.
“Congress just authorized Biden to transfer virtually any weapon of war, other than a nuclear weapon, to Ukraine,” he tweeted. “Insane!”
Opponents of the Lend-Lease Act also expressed concerns that the flow of weapons to Ukraine could deplete the United States’ own stockpiles. They said the massive assistance to Ukraine should be more carefully considered when there are domestic concerns about rising costs due to inflation.
“President Biden is requesting billions more in aid for Ukraine that could potentially draw our military into another trillion-dollar conflict half a world away,” Rep. Tom Tiffany said in a statement after the vote.
“If the last two decades have taught us anything, it is that it’s always much easier to get our country into a foreign conflict than it is to get out. Intervening in an overseas military engagement — whether through the deployment of U.S. personnel or a blank-check for military assistance — is among the most serious decisions an American leader can make. It is a step that should only be taken when clear, vital national security interests of the United States are at stake,” he added.
Last month, 15 Republicans and two progressive Democrats voted against a ban of Russian oil and energy imports. Both Republicans and Democrats opposed to the ban said the move could not be made without considering the impact on Europe and without developing a better strategy for American energy independence.
Last week, four progressive Democrats and four conservative Republicans also voted against a non-binding resolution that would have given the Biden administration the ability to seize the assets of Russian oligarchs.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat, tweeted that oligarchs “should suffer huge financial losses” but said she voted against the legislation because it would give Biden the ability to “violate the 4th Amendment, seize private property and determine where it should go — all without due process.”
The 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects against unreasonable search and seizure of property by the government. Ocasio-Cortez said the bill “sets a risky new precedent in the event of future presidents who may seek to abuse an expansion of power.”
Ocasio-Cortez and other progressives have largely supported Biden’s approach to the unprovoked Russian invasion of Ukraine while continuing to emphasize there can be no military solution to the crisis.
Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee has kept the issue of presidential war powers in public discussion for more than two decades since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. In the wake of those attacks, Congress passed the 2001 and 2002 Authorizations for the Use of Military Force (AUMFs), authorizing U.S. presidents to take military action.
Lee and other lawmakers have noted that presidents of both parties interpreted AUMFs so broadly they were able to take action against individuals and groups that were not directly involved in the attacks and, in some cases, didn’t even exist.
With the stakes for confrontation with Russia so high, there has been concern with some lawmakers that U.S. aid could escalate the situation. Lee, who strongly condemned the Russian invasion in February, said in a statement, “I am confident in President Biden’s repeated commitment to keep U.S. military personnel out of any conflict in Ukraine itself. Should the ongoing situation compel the President to consider U.S. military intervention in addition to these sanctions, however, Congress must be consulted prior to any authorization as per the War Powers Resolution of 1973. The American people deserve to have a say before we become involved in yet another foreign conflict.”
But in Poland this week, Lee made clear she is in support of U.S. assistance to Ukraine, viewing it as a key tool in maintaining U.S. interests abroad.
“This is a moment in history — it’s a defining moment, quite frankly, whether or not the world goes forward with our democratic principles or moves backwards, which is what Putin is attempting to do,” Lee told reporters.