- The Senate rejected a bill from Josh Hawley to establish a new office to oversee Ukraine aid.
- It was the latest showcase of the GOP’s divisions over Ukraine.
- Many Republicans said they were confident in the Biden administration’s aid tracking efforts.
The Republican Party’s ongoing split over Ukraine revealed itself once more on Tuesday as the Senate soundly rejected a provision that would have established a new office to oversee the billions of dollars in aid that the US has devoted to the war effort, resulting in a lopsided 26-68 margin.
Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri proposed a version of his “Special Inspector General for Ukraine Assistance Act” as an amendment to a bill that would repeal the 1991 and 2002 authorizations for the use of military force (AUMFs) in Iraq.
But while Hawley was able to win over a little more than 20 fellow Republicans — predominantly conservatives who are also wary of US support for Ukraine in general — more establishment-minded Republicans and defense hawks voted against the bill, along with almost every Democrat.
Sens. Jon Tester of Montana and Jon Ossoff of Georgia were the only Democrats to support the measure, along with Independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.
Many Republicans argued that installing a new inspector general would have been “duplicative,” generally expressing confidence in the current oversight conducted by the Biden administration.
“We already have a very extensive operation to oversee spending in Ukraine,” said Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah. “We don’t need to put another regulator on top of the regulators we already have there.”
In a statement to Insider, a National Security Council spokesman said that “we agree that oversight is critical,” but pointed to funding that’s already been set aside by Congress for existing inspectors general in the State Department, the Department of Defense, and the US Agency for International Development.
‘It’s already being done’
Hawley’s bill would have installed an entirely new inspector general’s office to oversee the more than $113 billion in aid to Ukraine appropriated by Congress since the Russian invasion began last year.
That’s more money given to Ukraine than every other country combined, according to an analysis from the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Roughly half of that aid has gone to the Ukrainian military, while the rest is a mixture of humanitarian support, funding for the Ukrainian government, and other purposes. The aid has proved critical in allowing the country to resist the Russian invasion for more than a year.
The new inspector general, after being confirmed by the Senate, would have been required to submit reports to Congress every three months detailing how the funds are being spent, as well as the Ukrainian government’s compliance with anti-corruption measures.
In a Fox News op-ed, Hawley argued that the current system for keeping track of the aid meant there was “no ultimate accountability for policing waste, fraud, and abuse.”
“Over the last year, our leaders have sent a mind-blowing amount of money to Ukraine,” he wrote. “If Congress cares about making sure that cash is well spent, they should go on record about it. “
But other Republicans apparently disagreed.
“The oversight is important, but if we’re already paying for it, and it’s already being done, maybe [Hawley’s bill] is kind of duplicative,” said Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, a prominent GOP proponent of supporting Ukraine. “Everything that I’ve asked for so far, I have been provided.”
“I’m going to vote no, because I think it’s duplicative, and will actually be wasteful,” said Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee. “This is essentially a solution in search of a problem.”
Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, said he commended Hawley for proposing the idea but argued that oversight was “already going on.”
“I’ve talked to [Ukrainian President Volodymr] Zelenskyy himself about this,” said Risch. “He understood that… it’s absolutely imperative that all these expenditures be accounted for.”
Hawley’s bill did win over at least one Republican who’s a vocal supporter of aiding Ukraine: Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
“I want to convince people we’re taking this seriously,” said Graham.
‘Never the right time’
Some senators expressed support for Hawley’s idea but said they would vote against it anyway over the fact that it was an amendment to an unrelated bill.
Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia and Republican Sen. Todd Young of Indiana, the top main co-sponsors of the underlying AUMF repeal bill, each said they were supportive of Hawley’s idea but would vote against it because it was unrelated to the legislation, and they wanted to ensure the bill could still pass the House.
“I don’t think we should complicate a repeal of the Iraq war authorization with that issue,” said Kaine.
“My concern is that if it ends up attached to what is a very narrow repeal effort, it will turn some of our existing supporters off,” said Young.
Its future in the House remains uncertain, but House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has said he expects the bill to go through the chamber’s committee process before reaching the floor for a vote.
Asked about the objections over the amendment not being related, Hawley laughed.
“It’s never the right time for those who don’t want to do anything,” said Hawley.