Correction: A previous version of this story stated that the House Armed Services Committee voted against advancing Rep. Marjorie Taylor-Greene’s bill to the House floor last year. It was the House Foreign Affairs Committee that voted against the bill.
WASHINGTON — Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., failed for the fourth time on Wednesday to secure enough votes to become speaker of the House, as his right-wing opponents wielded their opposition to U.S. aid for Ukraine as part of their justification for voting against him.
Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, nominated fellow Republican Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., for speaker against McCarthy, arguing the House needs changes to the leadership and rules in order to increase congressional debate over the billions of dollars in aid that the U.S. has been sending to Ukraine.
The deadlock over speaker illustrates how difficult it could be for President Joe Biden to rely on Congress if he needs to provide Ukraine with additional military aid this year, even as the bipartisan majority of Republicans and Democrats support the assistance for Kyiv.
“We should be in here having this kind of a conversation with this many people in the room about Ukraine,” Roy said on the House floor while nominating Donalds.
Roy said Congress should debate the $45 billion in emergency Ukraine spending that lawmakers passed as part of the government funding bill last month — including $27.9 billion for the U.S. Defense Department to send Kyiv additional weapons and backfill U.S. stocks of weapons that Washington has already sent. The White House has said this supplemental spending package is intended to last through the end of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.
“We should debate whether it should be more or less; we should debate whether it should be paid for; we should debate what the result [is] we should demand,” Roy said. “The only way you’re going to get that is if you change the rules and have the leadership to advance the rules to make sure that we can do that.”
Congress has passed four emergency Ukraine aid supplementals totaling more than $100 billion since Russia’s invasion in February, including $61.4 billion in military aid.
Both Roy and Donalds voted against the second Ukraine supplemental package totaling $40 billion in May, which the House ultimately passed 368-57. Republican Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who backs McCarthy but unwillingly received 20 votes to become speaker on Tuesday, also voted against the Ukraine aid bill.
Conversely, McCarthy sided with the majority of Republicans and voted for that Ukraine aid package.
But he went on to vow in October that a Republican House would not provide a “blank check” to Ukraine, only to walk back those comments in November a few days before election day as he instead advocated for more oversight of the aid.
Previous Ukraine aid supplementals already require the Pentagon and State Department inspectors general to oversee assistance to Kyiv. However, the supplementals stopped short of creating the special inspector general just for Ukraine that Republican leadership and conservative skeptics of Kyiv have demanded.
In the hopes of wooing over several conservative Freedom Caucus members opposed to his speaker bid, McCarthy made several concessions in December. This included a major rules change that would allow any five members to force a vote that could remove him as speaker, thereby empowering the furthest right-wing lawmakers in his caucus, among them vocal opponents of Ukraine aid.
Such a concession could prompt McCarthy or whoever else may become speaker to think twice before putting additional Ukraine aid on the floor for a vote.
Unsatisfied, the conservative Freedom Caucus members came forward with additional demands for rules changes earlier this week, resulting in a profanity-filled meeting as McCarthy and the majority of the Republicans rejected the extra ultimatums.
One of the most hardline Republican Ukraine aid skeptics, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., has led the charge against McCarthy’s candidacy for speaker. Gaetz explicitly framed his opposition to McCarthy in terms of Ukraine aid after the California Republican failed three consecutive votes to become speaker.
Gaetz on Twitter said the House’s failure to organize made Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy the “biggest loser” and U.S. taxpayers the “biggest winner.”
Zelenskyy visited Washington last month in his first trip to Ukraine since the war began to meet with Biden and address Congress shortly before Christmas, though the majority of House Republicans did not attend his speech. While Zelenskyy thanked the U.S. for its support, he said Ukraine will need more aid and expressed confidence there would be bipartisan support in Congress.
Some hardline Ukraine aid skeptics also support McCarthy, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor-Greene, R-Ga.
Gaetz and Taylor-Greene may be at odds over the speaker race, but they joined together in November to introduce legislation that would have required the Pentagon and State Department to hand over all documentation related to its support for Ukraine.
Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee voted against advancing the bill on the chamber floor, but nothing precludes Republicans from advancing the legislation now that they hold the majority — regardless of who becomes speaker.
“I’m here as a member of the House Armed Services Committee to say that the days of endless cash and military materiel to Ukraine are numbered,” Gaetz said at a news conference with Taylor-Greene in November.
Bryant Harris is the Congress reporter for Defense News. He has covered U.S. foreign policy, national security, international affairs and politics in Washington since 2014. He has also written for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.