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House Ukraine skeptics lay out hard-line demands amid Senate border talks

Even if senators can overcome the current gridlock over Ukraine funding, some House Republicans are already signaling opposition to any bill that links aid to major immigration reform.

Several House conservatives who have repeatedly voted against Ukraine told The Hill their vote was reliant on passing H.R.2, a stringent border security bill, or similar legislation.

Some hard-line Ukraine skeptics in the House also appear open to backing Ukraine for strong border protections — but have signaled that immigration reforms must go first.

“Until the border is secure, I don’t even want to consider Ukraine,” said Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), the policy chair of the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus. “Demonstrate the border is secure … or don’t even bother coming to us with Ukraine.”

For now, all eyes are on the Senate as it debates how to tie Ukraine funding to border security. A vote expected this week is likely to fail as Democratic and Republican senators have clashed over border reform proposals.

But any joint bill is likely to meet similar resistance in the House.

Republicans are pushing for H.R.2, a bill that would restrict migrants’ ability to seek asylum, restart border wall construction, increase the number of border patrol agents and criminalize migrants who overstay on their visa.

“Any Ukraine funding is contingent on our border security,” said Rep. Rick Allen (R-Ga.). “What would be great is if the White House obeyed current laws, but yes, we need to incorporate H.R.2.”

Allen had previously supported Ukraine but voted against a security assistance bill for Ukraine in September, becoming one of dozens of lawmakers who have softened on support for the embattled nation over time.

Democrats are largely opposed to H.R.2 and stricter immigration reforms.

In the Senate, Democrats have fumed over Republican demands on the border. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has also rebuffed Johnson’s call for H.R.2, calling it a “non-starter.”

Compounding the problem is fatigue nearly two years into Russia’s war on Ukraine, with conservative lawmakers such as Roy accusing President Biden of failing to answer their questions about how the war will end.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), former chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, said he would support the border and Ukraine together if it includes H.R.2 protections and is “real border security.”

But in addition to that, he said conservatives also want answers about the war and greater accountability for the weapons sent over to Ukraine.

“We got to know what the objective is in Ukraine. No one’s ever told us what the ultimate goal is,” Jordan said. “And also there’s got to be an inspector general in place to be accountable for all the money we’re sending over.”

To address those concerns, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and an ardent defender of Ukraine, released a House Republican path to victory for the Ukrainian people.

The document, also signed by Reps. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) and Mike Turner (R-Ohio), who lead the Armed Services and Intelligence committees, calls for a speedier transfer of weapons to Ukraine, tightening sanctions on Russia and a transfer of $300 billion in frozen Russian sovereign assets to Ukraine.

“If the United States abandons our allies like we did in Afghanistan, we will lose our trust and standing in the world as the leader of the free world,” the lawmakers wrote in the memo.

It also addresses frequent arguments against Ukraine support by noting many European nations are spending more per gross domestic product on Ukraine than the U.S., and that the Pentagon is ensuring accountability for weapons transfers.

While many Republicans still support Ukraine, the number of GOP lawmakers opposed to aiding Kyiv is growing. More than 100 Republicans voted against funding Ukraine in a September vote, up from about 70 in July and an even smaller minority before that.

The White House is already on high alert, telling Congress this week that Ukraine funding is expected to run out by the end of the year. Biden wants about $61 billion for Ukraine as part of a larger national security package.

Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) has expressed openness to backing Ukraine but is tying any legislation for more funding to a strong border.

In a letter to the Biden administration, responding to the concerns about dried-up Ukraine funds, Johnson said the wave of migrants at the border was “madness” and a “catastrophe.”

He said Ukraine funding was dependent on “transformative change to our nation’s border security laws” and a firm answer on what Biden’s strategy is to end the war.

“In light of the current state of the U.S. economy and the massive amount of our national debt, it is our duty in Congress to demand answers to these reasonable questions, and we still await the answers,” Johnson wrote.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Charles Q. Brown and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met with senators on Tuesday to press the importance of backing Ukraine — but the meeting resulted in finger-pointing as GOP lawmakers pushed for a greater emphasis on the border.

Biden said he would be willing to compromise with Republicans on the border and offered to “do significantly more” on securing it, but also blasted the GOP for not negotiating in good faith.

“Extreme Republicans are playing chicken with our national security, holding Ukraine’s funding hostage to their extreme partisan border policies,” he said. “Republicans have to decide if they want a political issue or if they want a solution at the border.”

The clock is ticking to back Ukraine, which is struggling against a larger Russian army across the 600-mile front line with winter approaching.

Congress has not passed a Ukraine aid bill all year as House GOP lawmakers have blocked passage. The roughly $47 billion in direct Ukraine security aid, approved last year before Democrats lost the majority in the House, is down to just a few billion dollars.

Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said the U.S. has just $4.8 billion left in presidential drawdown authority, and another $1.1 billion to backfill equipment transfers.

“Time is of the essence when it comes to Congress passing the supplemental request, or else we will find ourselves in a position where we’re not able to support Ukraine’s security assistance,” Ryder told reporters Tuesday.

Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.), a House Freedom Caucus member, said he was only prepared to discuss Ukraine if the U.S. secures the border, “full stop.”

Roy expressed concern about getting “watered-down crap out of the Senate” on the border that is tied to a “whole bunch of more money for Ukraine.”

“I don’t want that,” he said. “I want to see an actual end to what’s happening at the border. Once I see that, now come talk to us about Ukraine.”

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