GOP senators used a special conference meeting Wednesday to air their deepening differences over Ukraine aid — but left the room still lacking any immediate consensus on how to bridge that divide.
The meeting was requested by 17 Republicans, most of them conservatives, as the party continues to wrangle internal divisions over Ukraine funding that’s set for attachment to a stalled $100 billion-plus national security spending package also benefiting Taiwan, Israel and border security. Wednesday’s meeting followed a heated Senate GOP lunch on Tuesday that put the rift over the Ukraine-border talks on full display — after that contentious affair, some were unsure of what to expect from another round of discussion.
But attendees described Wednesday’s meeting as more tame. And yielding nothing significant as far as policy agreements or breakthroughs.
“It was much more from the heart and not angry and lashing out,” said Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.).
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) said the meeting was “an open airing of different views on Ukraine.” Sen. Tommy Tuberville said it was an opportunity for people get things “off their chests.”
Sens. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) spoke during the meeting, according to Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who said the four lawmakers gave “some very powerful addresses.”
“I think there’s a general consensus the majority of our conference feel like we need to support Ukraine,” Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C) said afterward. “There’s a discussion about humanitarian aid, sustaining government operations, lethal aid, but i thought it was a very good discussion.”
One idea Republicans are discussing is focusing any new Ukraine aid on the military, an attempt to break the logjam and sell the funding to some skeptical colleagues within their own ranks.
“Focusing military aid to Ukraine on military aid and letting some of the other countries that maybe don’t do as much on military aid, like Canada and the EU, [focus] on direct budget support and some econ aid, that is really to me a growing consensus amongst our conference that could help get the Ukraine aid over the goal line with a lot of Republican support,” Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska.) said.
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) has proposed a resolution supporting a delay in any debate on the national security spending agreement — once it appears — unless members have “adequate” time to review it. But that plan did not get taken up on Wednesday, per attendees.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) remains adamantly in favor of Ukraine aid, but a growing faction of his own members feel differently. On the Senate floor Wednesday morning, McConnell argued funding Ukraine has “never been about charity” or “virtue signaling,” but is instead “about cold, hard American interests.”
House and Senate Republicans have demanded that stronger border policies get tied to further Ukraine aid. The senators leading those border policy negotiations — led by Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) — say they are close to a deal but don’t have bill text yet. Lankford and Murphy have both said their product is now getting looked over in the Appropriations Committee.