Outside the beltway, as the saying goes, the MAGA-fuelled Republican schism on Capitol Hill that just cost former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy his job comes as little shock in a country where political dysfunction is the norm.
But one real-world consequence is now in razor-sharp focus: an existential threat to a fragile, multi-pronged bid by the United States to keep Russia’s invasion of Ukraine from metastasizing into a wider global conflict.
Canada, for its part, has already provided Ukraine with more than $9 billion in military, humanitarian and financial support, and that’s not about to change, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday.
“Standing up for the international rules-based order, (which) matters so deeply for the peace, stability and prosperity felt by people all over the world, is essential,” Trudeau insisted.
“We’re there with whatever it takes, as long as it takes, until Ukraine wins.”
That, he added, was very much U.S. President Joe Biden’s message as well in a call with world leaders earlier this week, including the European Union and NATO officials, prior to a historic vote that vacated the Speaker’s chair.
For the moment, however, Biden’s hands are tied.
Trump acolyte Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), a noted Capitol Hill bomb-thrower, introduced a motion to vacate after McCarthy teamed up with Democrats to pass a government funding bill without the latest $6-billion tranche of Ukraine aid.
And while McCarthy had quietly backed the U.S. effort to assist Ukraine, Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan — one of the early front-runners vying to take over the gavel — has long been a vocal opponent, at least publicly.
On Thursday, Jordan said he wants to know more about the administration’s endgame, whether it be a negotiated end to hostilities, Russian troops out of eastern Ukraine or the return of Crimea, annexed by Russia in 2014.
“What is the goal? What is the objective?” he said. “Second question: if you can tell us what the goal is, how is the money being spent? How can we account for it?”
Kurt Volker, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO and special envoy to Ukraine, made it explicitly clear Thursday on CNN: the goal is preventing Russian President Vladimir Putin from triggering a much bigger fight with NATO allies.
“By spending less than five per cent of our defence budget, we are seeing Ukraine destroy at least half of Russia’s conventional military capability, which is reducing the threat to NATO and the United States,” Volker said.
“That is a good investment for U.S. interests.”
Some House Republicans have concerns about corruption in Ukraine and whether the money is being well-spent. But the money goes towards replacing U.S. equipment and supplies that are being sent overseas, he added.
“There’s very little chance of corruption through that system,” Volker said. “We’re actually supporting the U.S. defence industry and U.S. military capabilities, and supporting Ukraine with all the capabilities (at the same time).”
Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy’s recent global goodwill tour continued Thursday in Spain, where he attended a summit meeting with European leaders and pressed his case for ongoing financial and military help.
French President Emmanuel Macron echoed that call, regardless of the status of U.S. assistance.
“Even if we are lucky to have such a committed American partner, we ourselves have to be totally committed, because this is in our immediate neighborhood.”
One of the deadliest Russian rocket attacks of the war in recent months underscored the urgency Thursday, killing at least 51 civilians who were attending a wake following a funeral in a village in the war-racked region of Kharkiv.
It’s all part of Russia’s effort “to make its genocidal aggression the new norm for the whole world,” Zelenskyy said in a statement on the Telegram messaging app. “We will respond to the terrorists.”
The Pentagon refused to say how long it will take for the remaining money — $1.6 billion for weapons, plus $5.4 billion worth of reserve capacity known as presidential drawdown authority — to run out.
That’s because of the dynamic nature of military conflict, said Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder.
“It’s all relative to what Ukraine’s most urgent security assistance needs are — the situation on the battlefield,” Ryder said.
“We have enough funding to last a bit longer … (but we) remain singularly focused on making sure that we’re working with Ukraine and our allies and partners to get what they need to be successful on the battlefield.”
Eventually, though, Congress will have to step up, and soon, said press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.
“We believe that Congress needs to act,” she said. “We need Congress to keep their promise, to keep the promise that they made to Ukrainians about continuing that bipartisan support.”
Biden said this week he plans a “major speech” on Ukraine in the coming days to argue “that it’s overwhelmingly in the interest of the United States of America that Ukraine succeed.”
The U.S.-led coalition of more than 50 countries has been essential not only in terms of keeping Ukraine in the fight, he said, but also for building consensus and unity at a time when such commodities are in short supply.
“It’s clear to the vast majority of the foreign policy community on both left and right that this has been a valuable exercise for the United States of America to increase the support we have around the world,” Biden said.
“I don’t think we should let the gamesmanship get in the way.”
Jean-Pierre did not say Thursday when or where that speech will take place.
— With files from The Associated Press
James McCarten, The Canadian Press