By Altaf Moti
Kevin McCarthy was ousted as the speaker of the House of Representatives on October 3, 2023, in a historic vote that was triggered by a motion from Matt Gaetz, a Republican congressman from Florida. Gaetz accused McCarthy of collaborating with Democrats to pass a stopgap spending bill that prevented a government shutdown and of making a secret deal with President Biden to provide more aid to Ukraine, which is at war with Russia. Gaetz and other hard-right Republicans wanted to use the threat of a shutdown to pressure Biden to withdraw US troops from Ukraine and stop supporting Kyiv’s counter-offensive against Moscow’s invasion.
McCarthy denied the allegations and defended his actions as necessary to avoid economic chaos and uphold US commitments to its allies. However, he failed to secure enough support from his own party to survive the vote, as eight Republicans joined 208 Democrats in voting for his removal. This was the first time in US history that a speaker of the House was ousted from office. Patrick McHenry, a Republican congressman from North Carolina, was designated by McCarthy as the acting speaker until a new leader is elected.
The ouster of McCarthy has thrown the House and the Republican Party into turmoil, as they face the challenge of finding a new leader who can unite the deeply divided factions within the party and deal with the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. Some possible candidates for the speakership include Liz Cheney, a Wyoming Republican who has been vocal in criticizing Trump and supporting Ukraine; Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican who is a staunch ally of Trump and an opponent of Biden; and Elise Stefanik, a New York Republican who has risen to prominence as a defender of Trump and a critic of Biden.
The removal of McCarthy also has significant implications for US foreign policy and its role in the Ukraine-Russia war. McCarthy was seen as a moderate who was willing to work with Democrats and the White House on some issues, such as providing military aid and sanctions relief to Ukraine. His replacement could be more hawkish or more dovish on Ukraine, depending on their ideological orientation and their loyalty to Trump, who has been accused of being too soft on Putin and too hostile to Zelensky. The change in leadership could also affect the passage of other legislation related to Ukraine, such as the Ukraine Security Partnership Act, which would authorize $300 million in annual security assistance to Kyiv.
The US package of 24 billion dollars for Ukraine was part of a larger request that Biden made to Congress in August 2023, which also included 12 billion dollars for domestic disaster relief.The request was meant to show US solidarity with Ukraine and its people, who have been suffering from Russia’s aggression and its humanitarian consequences. The money for Ukraine would go both to helping refugees fleeing Russia’s invasion and to defensive equipment and training for the country’s military.
According to Biden’s budget director Shalanda Young, the request included more than $13 billion in security assistance and $7.3 billion for economic and humanitarian assistance for Ukraine. The security assistance would include weapons, equipment, training, intelligence, logistics, maintenance, medical support, and other services for Ukraine’s armed forces. The economic and humanitarian assistance would include support for democracy, governance, anti-corruption, energy security, health care, education, social protection, food security, water supply, sanitation, shelter, and other needs for Ukraine’s population.
The request also included $3.3 billion meant to fund infrastructure in countries affected by the Russian invasion, an attempt at preventing coercive Chinese lending from taking hold in those nations. And it included $4 billion in funding for border security.
However, the request faced opposition from some Republicans in Congress, who questioned the accountability and effectiveness of US aid to Ukraine. They also argued that the US should not be spending more money on foreign wars while facing domestic challenges such as inflation, debt, immigration, etc. Some Republicans also echoed Trump’s views that US involvement in Ukraine was unnecessary and counterproductive.
The request was eventually approved by Congress in September 2023 after intense negotiations between Democrats and Republicans. The funding bill also included money for disaster relief and other domestic priorities. Biden signed the bill into law on September 29, just two days before McCarthy was ousted.
If the US had failed to provide the 24 billion package to Ukraine, it would have been a major blow to Kyiv’s morale and capabilities. It would have also sent a signal to Russia that the US was not fully committed to supporting Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. It would have also undermined US credibility and leadership among its allies and partners in Europe and beyond. It would have also increased the risk of further escalation or expansion of the war by Russia or its proxies.
Therefore, it is important for the US to continue providing assistance and support to Ukraine, as well as to work with the international community to find a peaceful and lasting solution to the conflict that respects the rights and interests of all parties involved. It is also important for the US to have a strong and stable leadership in the House of Representatives that can work with the White House, the Senate, and other allies to formulate and implement a coherent and effective policy on Ukraine.
The Ukraine war has been a divisive issue in the US, as it has exposed the different perspectives and priorities of the Democratic and Republican parties. Democrats have generally been more supportive of Ukraine’s sovereignty and democracy, and more critical of Russia’s aggression and interference. They have also been more willing to work with NATO and other allies to provide military, economic and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, as well as to impose sanctions and diplomatic pressure on Russia. Democrats have also been more concerned about the potential risks of a wider conflict or a direct clash between the US and Russia over Ukraine.
Republicans, on the other hand, have been more skeptical of US involvement in Ukraine, and more sympathetic to Russia’s interests and grievances. They have also been more influenced by former President Trump’s views on Ukraine, which have been negative and hostile. Trump has accused Ukraine of interfering in the 2016 US election, of being corrupt and ungrateful, and of being a burden on the US. He has also praised Putin as a strong leader, and sought to improve relations with Russia despite its actions in Ukraine. Republicans have also been more focused on domestic issues such as inflation, debt, immigration, etc., and less interested in spending money or risking lives on foreign wars.
These differences have been reflected in public opinion polls, which have shown that Democrats are more likely than Republicans to approve of the Biden administration’s response to the Russian invasion, to support providing more aid to Ukraine, and to welcome Ukrainian refugees into the US. On the other side, Republicans are more likely than Democrats to favor imposing a no-fly zone over Ukraine.
However, there are some areas of agreement between the two parties on the Ukraine war. Both parties regard the Russian invasion as a major threat to US interests, and both parties favor working closely with allies to respond to the Russian invasion.