In visit to Ukraine, Schumer aims to pressure GOP to take up aid bill

Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, travels to Ukraine on Friday for a visit aimed at showing US solidarity with the Democratic ally under attack from Russia and increasing pressure on Republicans to drop their opposition to more US aid.

The trip, Mr. Schumer’s first official trip to Ukraine, comes at a critical time, as a foreign aid package that includes more than $60 billion in military aid to Kiev has stalled on Capitol Hill amid Republican resistance.

It’s something of a victory lap for Mr. Schumer, a New York Democrat who this month managed to push a relief bill through the Senate with a strong bipartisan vote that came after months of partisan wrangling.

But it is also the last attempt to save the law in the House. Under pressure from right-wing hardliners hostile to funding Ukraine’s war effort, the Republican chairman, Mike Johnson, rejected bipartisan pleas to bring it to the floor.

Mr. Schumer plans to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his newly appointed military commander, Oleksandr Sirsky. He said he hopes to show how Congress’s stalling on more aid has hurt Ukraine’s efforts on the battlefield and to urge House Republicans to act before it’s too late.

“We think we’re going to be able to bring back very strong, concrete evidence as to why Ukraine is losing the war for the first time — or, you know, retreating in the war,” Mr. Schumer said in an interview before his departure. He cited the lack of ammunition – a key component of the US military aid package from the beginning of 2022 – as the main reason. “We also think we can look back and give great detail on how Ukraine can win this war, if they are given what they need.”

It is unclear how well his message will resonate in Washington, although Russian attacks on Ukrainian cities show no sign of abating. On Friday, Ukrainian Air Force said it shot down 23 of 31 Russian drones launched overnight. Drones that breached Ukraine’s air defenses heavily damaged residential buildings, and at least three civilians were found dead under the rubble of a building in the southern port city of Odesa, local authorities announced.

Mr. Schumer said the primary American audience for the trip was Republican lawmakers who expressed support for Ukraine but voted against sending more military aid.

That group has grown significantly over the past year as opposition to aid to Kiev has become a political imperative on the right, fueled in part by former President Donald J. Trump’s “America First” worldview. In the fall, Republican leaders settled on a new message to vindicate the opposition, arguing that the United States has no business helping Ukraine maintain its sovereignty unless or until it can secure its own border with Mexico through severe immigration restrictions.

“There are a lot of people who are torn, in the Senate and the House on the Republican side, who knew it was the right thing to do, but they fear the vindictiveness of Donald Trump,” Mr. Schumer said.

He said he believed that was the case with Mr Johnson, even though the speaker had repeatedly voted against sending aid to Ukraine.

“Speaker Johnson spoke positively about Ukraine,” Mr. Schumer said. “I think he knows that if he puts the bill on the floor, it would have the support of the majority.”

Still, aid advocates have made little progress with the speaker, who has never voted to support Ukraine and faces threats from far-right Republicans to oust him from office if he allows a vote on it.

After Representative Michael R. Turner, Republican of Ohio and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, led a bipartisan delegation to Kiev this month, where he met with Mr. Zelensky promised that the United States would produce additional financial resources, Mr. Johnson showed no signs of changing his attitude.

“A Republican-led House will not be obstructed or forced to pass a foreign aid bill that most Republican senators have opposed and does nothing to secure our own border,” Mr. Johnson said just days after Turner’s trip.

Mr. Schumer leads an all-Democratic delegation including Senators Jack Reed of Rhode Island, chairman of the Armed Services Committee; Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut; Michael Bennet of Colorado and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire. Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican and minority leader who has been a vocal supporter of aid to Ukraine, led a similar-sized GOP delegation to Ukraine in 2022.

The trip is an extension of the international profile that Mr. Schumer has been trying to cultivate since becoming majority leader. In the past year, he had trips to India, Pakistan, Israel, China and various points in Europe. That includes last week, when he addressed the participants of the Munich Security Conference.

“The Europeans are appalled that America — which has always been a NATO force, a Western alliance force — would think of turning its back on Europe,” Schumer said of his talks with foreign leaders in Munich regarding Ukraine. He said his trip was important because he “showed Europe that we are not turning our backs, that we are fighting for this and we will fight until we get help.”

Mr. Schumer added that he has no intention of succumbing to the demands of some Republicans that the United States focus its efforts in Ukraine exclusively on military aid and leave economic and humanitarian aid to European colleagues. The Senate-passed bill also includes economic and humanitarian aid to Ukraine, to help maintain civilian infrastructure and help those displaced by the fighting.

He also indicated that he and White House officials were exploring ways to circumvent resistance from House Republicans if their efforts to persuade Mr. Johnson and others to allow the vote failed.

“We will explore with the administration all the ways we could get this help,” Mr. Schumer said. “It is a key issue for the globe; it is a key question for history. It goes beyond the immediate politics of the moment.”

Constant Méheut contributed to the reporting.

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