McCarthy Declines to Host House Forum for Zelensky Amid G.O.P. Rifts

Speaker Kevin McCarthy, facing a right-wing rebellion in his ranks and mounting G.O.P. resistance to aiding Ukraine, has declined to convene a forum for President Volodymyr Zelensky to address members of the House on Thursday during a visit to Capitol Hill.

While Mr. McCarthy is expected to meet with Mr. Zelensky privately, his decision not to host a meeting where the Ukrainian president could make a direct appeal to rank-and-file lawmakers underscores the deep Republican divisions over continued U.S. assistance for Kyiv’s fight against the Russian invasion.

It also reflects Mr. McCarthy’s own precarious position as he draws ire from the right wing over federal spending and stepped-up threats to oust him if he does not embrace its members’ priorities, which include cutting off money for Ukraine.

The situation stands in contrast to the reception Mr. Zelensky is receiving in the Senate, where Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, has organized a closed-door session in the Capitol for all 100 senators. House lawmakers who are interested in hearing directly from Mr. Zelensky will instead have to leave Capitol Hill; members of the Congressional Ukraine Caucus and others are expected to meet with him at the National Archives on Thursday.

Speaker Kevin McCarthy is expected to meet with Mr. Zelensky privately.Credit…Pete Marovich for The New York Times

Mr. Zelensky’s visit comes as dozens of Republicans are opposing President Biden’s latest request of $24 billion for additional military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine’s war.

Mr. Zelensky, whose tour of Washington follows appearances before world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, is widely considered to be his country’s most skilled and powerful advocate when it comes to securing international support for Ukraine’s fight against the larger and more heavily armed Russian military.

The comedic actor turned wartime president cemented his status with lawmakers late last year when he addressed Congress from the well of the House with a public plea to fund the transfer of critical munitions and weapons systems. He portrayed the war as an existential standoff between a Russian-Iranian axis and the West, and assured skeptics that “your money is not charity.” The next day, Congress approved a spending bill that included $45 billion in assistance for Ukraine.

But Mr. Zelensky’s latest visit comes in a far more fraught political environment. A third of House Republicans have voted to curtail Ukraine spending in recent months, while a bloc of more than 40 right-wing hard-liners has threatened to boycott any spending bill that includes a “blank check” for Ukraine.

A small band of Republican holdouts has prevented the Senate and the House from moving spending bills through their respective chambers. And instead of rolling out the red carpet for the Ukrainian president, Mr. McCarthy — who just months ago spoke forcefully about his commitment to Kyiv — now says Mr. Zelensky must convince him that supporting the fight against Russia is worth Congress’s money and time.

“Is Zelensky elected to Congress? Is he our president? I don’t think I have to commit anything,” Mr. McCarthy told reporters on Tuesday. “Where is the accountability on the money we already spent? What is the plan for victory? I think that’s what the American public wants to know.”

Mr. McCarthy’s hostility to approving additional funds for Ukraine has been mounting in recent months, as his increasingly emboldened right flank revolts over a deal he struck with Mr. Biden this spring setting spending limits in exchange for suspending the debt limit. Despite having previously stated that he supported Ukraine’s fight against Russia, Mr. McCarthy declared himself in June to be opposed to budgeting additional dollars for it, and this week he endorsed a spending measure drafted by conservative and moderate Republicans that would allot no additional funding for assisting Kyiv.

The stance has put Mr. McCarthy out of step with other Republican leaders, like Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, as well as the bulk of his own members in the House. They have argued that helping Ukrainian troops by budgeting for a steady flow of weapons is a moral imperative, and that Mr. Zelensky could help persuade their more skeptical colleagues of that necessity, if only the speaker would give him the chance.

Mr. Zelensky is widely considered to be Ukraine’s most skilled and powerful advocate when it comes to securing international support for his country’s fight against Russia.Credit…Dave Sanders for The New York Times

Mr. Zelensky “could come and explain to them what’s at stake,” said Representative Mike Simpson, Republican of Idaho, who said it was a mistake not to give Mr. Zelensky a chance to try to change naysayers’ minds. “Because I don’t think some people understand what’s at stake here.”

Representative Don Bacon, Republican of Nebraska, also said Mr. Zelensky needed the chance to persuade skeptics to drop their opposition.

“His country’s a victim; Russia’s the invader,” Mr. Bacon said. “To me I have total moral clarity that we should stand by Ukraine. So I just think if he speaks, if he can persuade a few people, it’s worth it.”

Critics of Ukraine assistance, however, said there was little Mr. Zelensky could say to change their thinking.

“No,” said Representative Kat Cammack, Republican of Florida, when asked if Mr. Zelensky might be able to persuade her to reconsider her opposition. “I am very firmly in the camp of an America-first policy when it comes to funding of the government and ensuring we have the means here to support our national defense.”

In the Senate, several skeptics have already said they do not plan to attend the Thursday morning session where Mr. Zelensky will make his remarks.

“He’s going to come over to make the case that he needs more help,” said Senator Mike Braun, Republican of Indiana. “I’m going to be the one that says, ‘If you want more help from us, the E.U. ought to be doing their fair share.’”

That leaves Mr. Zelensky to try to make his case in a relative void, and on a tight deadline: The administration’s authority to dispatch weapons to Ukraine ends on Sept. 30, at the end of the fiscal year.

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