Armed Conflict Congress

The Lawfare Podcast: Molly Reynolds and Eric Ciaramella on the Ukraine Supplemental

Benjamin Wittes, Molly E. Reynolds, Eric Ciaramella, Jen Patja
Thursday, February 8, 2024, 8:00 AM
Will Congress pass a military aid package that includes aid to Ukrainen? 

Published by The Lawfare Institute
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It's been a wild and woolly week on Capitol Hill with respect to the border, Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan, and a lot of other stuff.  On Wednesday, the Senate was preparing to vote both on the apparently doomed supplemental deal that included border security provisions, and on a deal without them. 

Lawfare Editor-in-Chief Benjamin Wittes sat down with Lawfare Senior Editor Molly Reynolds and Eric Ciaramella of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace to discuss the congressional politics and also the situation in Ukraine that drives the need for congressional action. They talked about how the border and the Ukraine supplemental got wrapped up together, how they're being disaggregated, whether there is a path forward for Ukraine aid now that the Senate has killed the compromise, what's happening on the ground in Ukraine, and what would happen if the United States doesn't act.


Click the button below to view a transcript of this podcast. Please note that the transcript was auto-generated and may contain errors.


[Audio Excerpt]

Eric Ciaramella: This lack of aid will only exacerbate those political and societal tensions, and cause chaos in the ranks of the Ukrainian army, and so you could see cascading failures over the course of 2024.

[Main Podcast]

Benjamin Wittes: I'm Benjamin Wittes, and this is the Lawfare Podcast, February 8th, 2024. It's been a wild and woolly week on Capitol Hill with respect to the border, Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan, and a lot of other stuff. As we recorded yesterday, the Senate was preparing to vote both on the apparently doomed supplemental deal, including border security provisions, and on one without them. Joining me in the virtual Jungle Studio was Molly Reynolds, Lawfare Senior Editor, and Eric Ciaramella of the Carnegie Endowment of International Peace. We got together to discuss the congressional politics and also the situation in Ukraine that drives the need for congressional action. We talked about how the border and the Ukraine supplemental got wrapped up together, how they're being disaggregated, whether there is a path forward for Ukraine aid, now that the Senate has killed the compromise, and we talked about what's going on on the ground in the Ukrainian lines, and what would happen if the United States doesn't act.

It's the Lawfare Podcast, February 8th: Molly Reynolds and Eric Ciaramella on the Ukraine Supplemental.

So Molly, we are recording this at perhaps the most awkward time on Wednesday afternoon to record about this subject. Give us a sense of the lay of the land right now, which will, in fact, be different by the time anybody listens to this.

Molly Reynolds: Sure. It could be worse. We could be recording it while the vote was happening. But, the current lay of the land is that over the weekend, the Senate, specifically, Senators Lankford, Murphy, and Sinema, released the text of a long awaited compromise related to changes to immigration law. So we'll call this "the border proposal." They'd been working on this for several months under the understanding that if they could come to an agreement on, bipartisan agreement on language that would make changes to immigration law, that would be packaged together with legislation that would provide additional assistance to Ukraine, to Israel, and to Taiwan, and that that package would move through the Senate.

 Within 24 to 48 hours, it became clear that that immigration language was in fact a non-starter with a sufficient number of Senate Republicans that even Minority Leader McConnell who, among other things, had deputized Lankford to try and reach this agreement, was certainly supportive of his efforts to negotiate a deal, and is certainly very personally supportive of additional assistance to Ukraine. Even he has announced that it's clear that this particular proposal will not become law at this particular moment in time.

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer indicated that despite these announcements from the Republican conference, he still plans to hold a procedural vote on the full, four-part package. So the measure that has both the immigration language, as well as the assistance to Ukraine, to Israel, and to Taiwan that is scheduled to take place later this afternoon. Given that Republicans in the Senate have said that they do not plan to vote for that procedural motion in sufficient numbers for it to pass, Schumer has also indicated that after the vote on the four parts, they will hold a vote that takes the border-related language, the changes to immigration law--we can talk more about what is on the table, what was on the table there--but he'll hold another procedural vote immediately after that on just the spending pieces. That vote is expected, at least as of this moment, to get the necessary support from Republicans to invoke cloture. I think it may lose a handful of Democratic votes, particularly around, over concerns related to the Israel piece of the package. But that vote is also scheduled to take place later this afternoon.

Benjamin Wittes: Alright, so by the time somebody listens to this, what we expect the lay of the land to look like is that the great compromise of a border security package for the supplemental funding will be dead in the Senate, but the Senate will have moved forward precisely the package of supplemental funding that was originally conditioned on the border compromise only without the border compromise. Is that fair?

Molly Reynolds: Yeah, I'd say that that is, if I were a betting woman, that that's where we'll be when folks are listening to this podcast.

Benjamin Wittes: But that package, which would then be on its way back to the House, has no immediate prospect of receiving a vote in the House, right?

Molly Reynolds: That's correct. Probably not as a standalone piece of legislation. We can talk more about a more medium-term, where medium-term is weeks as opposed to days, trajectory for some of this stuff a little bit later. But, there's no indication that Speaker Johnson would bring up exactly what the Senate may well advance today. It's worth noting that the vote today is a procedural one and not one on ultimate passage, and that wouldd come later.

Benjamin Wittes: So fair to summarize the situation, assuming we're right about where this is going today, that the Senate, after proceeding on the basis that Aid for Ukraine and Israel and Taiwan was contingent on the border compromise, now drops the border compromise and can proceed on the basis of the supplemental alone. The House, however, will not proceed on either the basis of the border compromise or the individual supplemental components grouped together, and yesterday failed to pass the Israel package by itself. So it says no to, in different ways, says no either to aggregating or disaggregating these components.

Molly Reynolds: Yeah. One way to describe this is that what is now Plan B for the Senate is what was Plan A several months ago before they started down this road of tying assistance to Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan to the border. And the House has not reached the point of really having a plan.

Benjamin Wittes: All right. So, now let's lift ourselves out of Washington and talk about the situation in Kyiv that is partly driving this debate. Eric, the noises from Ukraine over the last few months as this supplemental has gotten mired down in domestic politics have been increasingly panicked and increasingly dire about how bad the situation is and how urgently needed this aid is. So, first of all, how much of that is hyperbole? That is, how dire is the situation? And secondly, what are the components of the aid package that is now tied up with this immigration compromise that was A) required and B) now unacceptable?

Eric Ciaramella: Thanks, Ben. I really don't think it is hyperbole to say this is extremely urgent. Since the last time I came on the podcast in December after my trip to Kyiv, the situation has deteriorated continually on the front lines. The Russians have significant artillery advantages over the Ukrainians, both because their own defense industrial base has mobilized faster than the West's to be able to supply additional ammunition, and because they've gotten significant supplies from places like North Korea, in addition to drones from Iran that they're using to launch at Ukrainian cities, terrorize the Ukrainian population, and overwhelm Ukrainian air defenses. So, it's become even worse. There's widespread reports of Ukrainian commanders being forced to ration munitions, firing smoke rounds, things like that. Very desperate situations in certain areas along the front lines where the Russians have continued to make these concerted, localized pushes.

There hasn't been a major loss of territory. The Ukrainians are still holding their ground, but it's getting increasingly tenuous. So, it is really urgent at this point that we have some amount of American, military aid going to Ukraine in 2024. The reason being, even though Europe has stepped up in a significant way with its aid, the recent 50 billion Euro package was primarily for budgetary support, although each individual European country has really moved to plus up its support. Germany, doubling its military aid to Ukraine from four to eight billion Euro in 2024 and other nations doing the same. The issue is that the European defense industrial base and individual allied stockpiles are just nothing close to what the United States has on hand and can ramp up in the foreseeable future. So, the pace at which Ukraine is expending munitions, even for basic defense with prepared defenses and fortifications, is still more than probably what the Europeans can supply, in a hypothetical scenario where we went to zero.

Benjamin Wittes: So, how responsive is this aid package to the situation? That is, if Congress were to get its shit together and do the right thing this afternoon and send the president a supplemental. President signs the supplemental. How quickly does 60 billion dollars resupply the Ukrainian lines realistically?

Eric Ciaramella: So we have to break down the 60 billion. So first of all, part of it is for direct budgetary support, similar to what the Europeans just passed in their four-year, 50-billion-Euro package. And that's really to keep the lights on for the Ukrainian government, civil servant salaries, and things like that, to be able to provide basic services, of course, because in any war, and especially in a war of attrition, if you can't sustain the war effort from the rear, then the front lines obviously collapse. So that's urgent. That's about seven-eight billion, at least in the Senate compromise language that, as Molly explained has been ported over to this new national security only proposal.

So the rest of the 50 billion is for military and intelligence support. Part of that is for what's called "presidential drawdown authority," which allows the president to pull from us stocks and then the money actually is to backfill those stocks with new production. And so that's urgent and that could start to be put in motion within weeks. If listeners have seen the 20-something tranches of anywhere between a couple hundred million to a couple billion in aid, every few weeks since the start of the full scale invasion, that's presidential drawdown gradually being used as the defense department finds weapons and ammunition in our stockpile and says, "This is what Ukraine needs now for the next few weeks," and plans on an urgent, an ongoing basis. That's about 20 billion.

Another 12 to 15 billion is for what's called Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which is for new production, for entering into contracts with American producers, for new weapons and munitions that are going to be coming online in coming years. And so, again, this is all far cry from a blank check to Ukraine. Much of this money is going back into the U.S. defense industrial base, either to backfill, the U.S. weapons pulled from stockpiles or to manufacture these new systems that Ukraine is going to be purchasing in the future.

So, and on that USAI point, we have been doling out contracts and finalizing them, worth about 18 billion dollars over the past two years. That USAI component of the initial supplemental budgets was there. And so, much of that is for production that hasn't come online yet. So even in the worst case scenario where Congress does refuse to appropriate any additional funds, there is this latent equipment and munitions that has already been put under contract that once it's produced, will end up going to Ukraine. It's just not enough and not on the time scale needed for the urgent and deteriorating situation on the front line.

Benjamin Wittes: All right, so that is super helpful. So basically, it's fair to say neither the administration nor the Ukrainians are hyping the direness of this situation. It's Congress is actually facing a choice, do you continue to fund the defense of Ukraine? And if you don't, the lines and the capacity of the Ukrainians to defend the current lines and their cities will begin deteriorating, or is already deteriorating, and can be expected to continue to deteriorate at some accelerating rate. Is that a fair summary?

Eric Ciaramella: I think that's a totally fair summary. This is as close as we get to cause and effect in foreign policy. It's not going to be that Americans open up their news one day and find massive swaths of Ukrainian territory overrun by Russians. It's going to be a slow but, as you said, accelerating pace of deterioration. And again, that's because of running out of weapons, but then that has cascading effects because it hits soldiers' morale and, you can see defections and soldiers defying orders and whatnot. Ukraine has significant manpower challenges too. There's this other political debate going on now that we haven't talked about yet about a new mobilization law and about tensions between the civilian and military administrations about how to prosecute the war going forward and this lack of aid will only exacerbate those political and societal tensions and cause chaos in the ranks of the Ukrainian army. And so you could see cascading failures over the course of 2024.

Benjamin Wittes: And just to be clear, when you say manpower shortages, let me just give a little bit of data in explanation of that. Ukraine is a country of 44 million people, and this is a 700-mile-long front. And Russia is a country of 130 million people, or thereabouts. And so if it comes down to a question of how many people can you throw at a 700-mile line, the Russians are just in a position to throw a lot more people at the problem than the Ukrainians are, and they are in a position to absorb a much higher casualty rate. Is there more to the manpower issues? There's obviously more to the manpower issue than that, but is that the crux of it?

Eric Ciaramella: Yeah. That's the crux of it. And actually the ratio is frankly even worse than what you described because Ukraine was a country of 44 million people. And that was before part of its territory was annexed back in 2014. And then now 20 percent of its territory is under Russian occupation. Not to mention millions of refugees who have gone abroad. So there aren't really good estimates now, but realistic ballparks are that it's somewhere in the low 30s and, the Russian population is somewhere in the mid 140s. So we're talking one to four or one to five ratio in terms of the manpower pool.

But what you have to add on to that is that in the Russian context, there's essentially no political constraints on Putin to keep mobilizing Russians. I wouldn't say no constraints, but there are significantly fewer constraints than in Ukrainian society, where there is a vibrant debate and there is politics. And again, even though there is a legal regime of martial law, there's criticism of the president and there's a debate about whether the strategy is working. In Russia, you have an authoritarian system and people mostly salute and Putin has been able to draw on mostly poor communities in ethnic minority regions of Russia to recruit them, prisoners and whatnot. And so, again, Putin hasn't wanted to go full mobilization because that would be probably a bit too much of a shock to Russian society. But his ability to dig into the well and find another couple hundred thousand Russian troops to fill the ranks every six months, that's much easier for him to do than for Ukraine, given the differences in their political systems.

Benjamin Wittes: Alright. So Molly, coming back to all of this sounds to me completely compelling, the sort of thing that would anger you enough to make you show up on the National Mall and shine lights and demand that Congress do something. But, Congress has been sitting on this supplemental for, I guess, since it got left out of the continuing resolution that kept the government open several months ago. And so, my question to you is how much of that is because of actual opposition to funding the Ukrainians? The sort of Tucker in Moscow effect, right? The Marjorie Taylor Greene, Donald Trump stuff. How much of it is the border holding it up, which seemed like that was the principal explanation until this weekend, and how much of it is just general dysfunction in a caucus that barely has a minority and is not especially adept at corralling it or governing. What's the weight of the factors that are preventing this issue from being addressed?

Molly Reynolds: Sure. So I think it's a mixture of what you've identified. I think in terms of genuine, actual opposition to additional assistance to Ukraine, that is the position of a block within the Republican Conference, especially in the House, but also in the Senate. And I think importantly in the Senate Republican Conference, there does seem to be a willingness to maybe cover for the House, is one way to describe it. So even among some, I think, Senate Republicans who are more in the middle on this question, they're not firm opponents, but they're also not McConnell-level champions of additional assistance to Ukraine. There's a willingness, probably a politically motivated willingness to just go along with what their colleagues in the House, which is the one part of the government right now where Republicans do have a very slim, but a majority. So I think there's some of that.

Benjamin Wittes: As long as nobody is having surgery.

Molly Reynolds: Right, right. There's some of that in addition to some actual opposition. I think another thing that has made this more challenging is the fact that Eric's entire account of how dire things are in Ukraine, notwithstanding, from the perspective of the U. S. Congress, there is not the same kind of hard, single deadline with big costs for inaction as there is for when a continuing resolution runs out and they need to vote to keep the government open.

And I think when we think about, you mentioned back in the end of September, when there was a vote on a continuing resolution to keep the government open through mid-November, that many of us for a while thought would include some additional assistance to Ukraine. It was pretty clear that there were probably votes for a continuing resolution plus Ukraine money in the Senate. The clock ran out on that as a possibility of a strategy. We got to the point where we were, 12 hours away from a partial government shutdown and the Senate was faced with the choice of accepting a proposal that kept the government open that had come over from the House but had no assistance for Ukraine, or approving a measure that had assistance for Ukraine with the continuing resolution. And they chose, Senate Republicans, basically the center of gravity in the conference was such that they didn't want to jeopardize shutting down the government over going to the mat with the House on Ukraine assistance. And so, basically, enough Republicans told McConnell they didn't want to have that fight. And so McConnell said, "Okay, we're going to vote to keep the government open." And so it's that, the interaction between what Congress sees as really hard deadlines for itself and its activities, versus what it sees as hard deadlines, I think, vis a vis Ukraine.

Benjamin Wittes: So the slow degradation of a 700-mile-line and the increased pace of Russian rocket attacks on Ukrainian cities just isn't enough of a moment, right? Because it happens in slow motion and doesn't have the deadline component like a government shutdown. It's more of a degradation of a sort that Congress can kind of ignore.

Molly Reynolds: Yeah, I think that's a good way to describe it and. Just given the overall politics writ large within the two chambers and across the two chambers. It's very hard to do anything at all right now and it's certainly very hard to do anything unless Congress feels like the consequences for itself of not acting are quite high.

Eric Ciaramella: Yeah, and I would also mention, Ben, your point that the degradation of the line is not enough. I think also there's been a misperception or misunderstanding about the state of the war, particularly since the top Ukrainian general, General Zaluzhny, in his Economist article back in November, tried to describe the state of warfare and this tag of stalemate was put on it. And so everyone started talking about stalemate. And the reality is something actually worse than stalemate. Because the stalemate is where neither side can really do anything to change the situation on the board. But what we're actually seeing is a steady degradation, such that by the end of the year, Russia will be in a significantly better position if there's no aid. And so, military analysts like, my colleagues, Mike Kofman and Dara Massicot and Jack Watling at RUSI in London have made this point that "stalemate" lulls you into believing that everything's fixed and nothing will change, but actually the trajectory is far more dangerous if we let things stand without any aid.

Benjamin Wittes: So, Molly, one, I suppose, complacent response is, "Hey, the Republican tying this to a border security bill turned out to be something of a bluff." That is, you demand that the border be tied to it, and the administration says, "Fine, okay, we'll include a lot of border money in the supplemental," and then you say "No, no, no, no. It's not border money we need, it's border policy change," and so then there is a lengthy negotiation that produces a bipartisan compromise reflecting border policy change. And then you say, "No, just kidding, we think the president has all the authority that he needs without any bill, and so we're against it," and the result is, if your prediction is correct, that the Senate will today. move the supplemental money without any border stuff at all. Why shouldn't I say, "Well, that's where the House is going to have to end up, too, because they're doing the same thing that the Senate is doing." That is, you demand border policy change as the cost of moving this thing. Then you turn out to be head-faking about the border policy change. Maybe at that point, Mike Johnson just has to do what the Senate just did, which was to move the money without the border stuff. Is that plausible or are the politics of the House just that different from the politics of the Senate?

Molly Reynolds: Yeah. I am somewhat skeptical that Speaker Johnson will move this supplemental package without the border and immigration policy changes on its own. He has a sizable block of his conference that is not in favor of additional assistance to Ukraine. He would probably have to move the package via what's called suspension of the rules, which would mean that it would need two thirds support in the house. It might get there. I don't know how many Democrats in the House would vote against it on the basis of the Israel component. I believe the Biden White House has come out today in support of the Ukraine-plus-Israel-plus-Taiwan proposal after issuing a veto threat on the Israel only money.

But to my mind, really the place that we should be looking if we think that there's a future for this supplemental is to see if it can get attached to a forthcoming broader spending deal in the House. So the current temporary measure funding the government runs out about a month from now. It's a little unclear where they are on trying to get to an agreement that would fund the government for the rest of the year. But if they can get there, if they can develop a large omnibus, or, say, two minibus proposals that contain all of the other spending bills, the regular spending bills for the rest of the fiscal year. I think there's a possibility that this additional security supplemental funding gets attached to that. And one of the reasons that that's plausible, at least to me, is because the same Republicans-- not to a T, but by and large--the same Republicans who are going to vote against a standalone Ukraine-plus-Israel-plus-Taiwan supplemental are also the same Republicans who are going to vote against a large deal that funds the government. You don't have those people on your whip count as yeses for the underlying agreement on spending. So if that's true, adding something else that they also hate doesn't necessarily lose you votes, or it certainly doesn't lose you their votes.

Benjamin Wittes: Right. It kills two birds with one stone.

Molly Reynolds: Yes. Now, will this work? Would some number of Republicans get so mad at Mike Johnson if he did this that they would threaten to depose him again? I don't know. You've heard a little bit of mumbling from some House Democrats who are saying, if there's a deal on spending and if Johnson is willing to do the supplemental, we will help back him up if he faced a challenge from the floor. I have no idea if that's where we'll get to, but I do think that that's how we should be thinking about this question of the future of the supplemental.

Benjamin Wittes: So Eric, if I were Ukrainian and I heard Molly say, "maybe in a month," I would tear out what was left of my hair. How timely is a month from now if you discount it with the probability that, by whatever possibility that it won't happen. Is that good enough?

Eric Ciaramella: They need it now and they will need it even more so in a month. The war's not going to be over in a month. So the sooner the better. I think it was Ukraine's Foreign Minister that at some point quipped today that this whole aid debate was like a thrilling detective story, and it was very confusing and you never know what's going to happen. They're trying to project some confidence that Congress will come through and that everything will be fine. Obviously they have a population to soothe and reassure, but, again, this can't happen soon enough. And if it takes another month, so be it. It's better than going the rest of the calendar year without a single dollar more in American assistance, which is just untenable.

Benjamin Wittes: So, Molly, when I look at this picture, I don't know if detective story is the metaphor I would use for it. It seems to me almost more like a jigsaw puzzle or a Rubik's Cube where you're trying to find--you believe there's a formula where you can make the picture work, and you're trying to find the path to it. How confident are you that there is a path, or is this just a puzzle with enough missing pieces, and also enough Donald Trump occasionally reaching his hand in and grabbing some of the pieces and taking them like he did with the border security deal, that maybe this just is something Congress can't get done right now. Is that, do you think that's possible? Or is this a question of the deal is there to put together if somebody can put it together?

Molly Reynolds: It's a good question. I think it's possible that there is no real way to unlock additional assistance for Ukraine at this point, and maybe to put it more precisely, that the relative importance of unlocking additional assistance to Ukraine gets swamped by other issues. So here I'd go back to this, what I said before, about what happened at the end of September, which was basically when presented with the choice of shut down the government and have a fight about additional assistance to Ukraine then, or keep the government open and try to fight another day on Ukraine, they took the second option. And I think in some ways, that says something to us about even Ukraine has some very powerful and very loud congressional champions--and I don't use loud, pejoratively there, I mean loud to the benefit of the Ukrainians. But if they get rolled by other members, there's only so much that they can do.

At the same time, part of why I sketched out the scenario that I did is that, in a Congress where everything has been a tooth and nail fight, even above normal levels for the contemporary U. S. Congress, the things that they have managed to do when it's come down to keeping the government open or avoiding other really catastrophic fiscal consequences, like when they ultimately came to an agreement to increase the debt limit in the early summer of last year. And so, I think if there's a train, it's the train that will hopefully be an all-government spending agreement in about a month. But that train could leave the station without assistance for Ukraine.

Benjamin Wittes: Right, sort of a repeat of September.

Molly Reynolds: Yeah.

Benjamin Wittes: So, no discussion of the subject of congressional dysfunction is complete without mention of a discharge petition. And so, I want to ask about what happens if we really stagnate here, and Republicans can't take yes for an answer on the border stuff, but they also can't move the supplemental without the border stuff? You end up in a land where somebody will, or may, try to force a consideration in the House of one of the Senate-passed versions by discharge petition. Molly, is that fantasy, or is that a realistic option here, and how would it work?

Molly Reynolds: I would say it's like one step up from fantasy, but nowhere--I would not categorize it as a realistic option. I think the 118th Congress has really challenged our sense of what is and is not fantasy in the House. We're recording this the day after House Republicans brought a vote on impeachment articles for DHS Secretary Mayorkas to the floor without a firm whip count and lost the vote, which is just not something that happens.

So, all that said, the challenges to a discharge-petition-based strategy here are two. One is that it takes a bunch of time, it's cumbersome, and if I take Eric's point, earlier, it's that the Ukrainians need help now. They needed help four months ago. They're still going to need help in four months, and in eight months and so on and so forth. And so in some sense, from their perspective, obviously time matters, but from a Congress's perspective, the closer we get to the election, the harder it's going to be to do really anything, including move something like a discharge petition. But I think the more consequential reason that it's a tricky prospect here is because you need a simple majority of the House to sign on to a discharge petition to bring whatever the underlying issue is out of committee, basically, and onto the floor. And I think, in a world where Mike Johnson said to the anti-Ukraine faction in his caucus, like, "Screw you, I'm bringing this to the floor anyway," it would get, I think, a simple majority of the votes in the House. We get some Republican votes, we get some Democratic votes. But, I don't know that all of those same people who would vote for it would sign a discharge petition. I think that you would probably, particularly if the Ukraine assistance is still paired with assistance to Israel, there are some Democrats on the left wing of the party who might be skittish, even with the Biden administration having endorsed the proposal, would be skittish around, advancing it with the Israel language as it's currently constituted.

And then, more importantly, getting enough Republicans to sign on is not impossible, but it's harder to get a Republican to sign on to a discharge petition than it is to get them to vote for the thing once it's on the floor. Because signing a discharge petition is really viewed as undercutting the power of the Speaker to set the congressional agenda. And the kinds of folks who are supportive of Ukraine in the Republican conference are also the kinds of folks who generally want to make Mike Johnson's life easier rather than harder. And so, the numbers may not add up even before you get to the issue of the amount of time that it would take.

Benjamin Wittes: One other procedural machination, which Congressman Auchincloss has, has talked about from the fanatically pro-Ukraine side, with which I certainly identify. He withheld support for the last CR on the basis that it did not have the Ukraine money in it and said that neither his leadership nor the Republican leadership should count on his vote for any future funding bill that does not have this. And his explanation for it is that all the brinksmanship is being played by the radical right fringe caucus, and the result is that they have disproportionate power because they're willing to burn the house down every time. Whereas when Speaker Johnson needs to rely on Democratic votes, they're there for him.

As I understood Representative Auchincloss's position, he seemed to be arguing that the Democrats need to stop playing that game, and basically say, "Hey, we're not going to support another funding deal unless it includes this." I take it that there were like two votes for that position the last time around, but is there a brinksmanship play that the Democrats can make with Ukraine funding, or is it too low on their own priority lists for that to be effective?

Molly Reynolds: Yeah, I tend to think it's probably not high enough on their priority list. Not because there aren't a lot of Democrats who care about this, because I think there are. But I think, particularly, if we're thinking about what I see is the most likely scenario for getting this done that I sketched out before, which is that it's tied to a broader spending deal, I think there aren't that many Democrats who would threaten to torpedo something that keeps the government open, keeps the government open mere months before the next election, is a vote in line with what the Biden administration will be wanting them to do, in service of the very broad range of other things that the federal government does. So I think if there were two folks in that corner of the House Democratic Caucus, maybe you get a couple more than that. But I think that, again, particularly if this specific funding stream for Ukraine is tied to a broader spending deal, it's hard for me to see enough Democrats threatening to do that in order to actually have it make a huge difference in the outcome.

Benjamin Wittes: We are gonna leave it there. Eric Ciaramella, Molly Reynolds, thank you both for joining us today.

Molly Reynolds: Thank you.

Eric Ciaramella: Thanks, Ben.

Benjamin Wittes: The Lawfare Podcast is produced in cooperation with the Brookings Institution. Our audio engineer this episode is the exceptionally fine Noam Osband of Goat Rodeo.

Hey folks, this conversation about the politics of Ukraine aid, it's just going to be the most sophisticated conversation on the subject you're going to listen to. So share it on social media so others can enjoy Molly's insights in Congress and Eric's account of the Ukrainian situation without a new aid package. You know you can bring people into the light with the Lawfare Podcast. Make it happen, folks.

The Lawfare Podcast is edited by the one, the only Jen Patja. Our music is performed by Sophia Yan. And as always, thanks for listening.

Benjamin Wittes is editor in chief of Lawfare and a Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution. He is the author of several books.
Molly Reynolds is a senior fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution. She studies Congress, with an emphasis on how congressional rules and procedure affect domestic policy outcomes.
Eric Ciaramella, a Lawfare contributing editor, is also a senior fellow in the Russia and Eurasia program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where he specializes in Ukraine and post-Soviet affairs. He previously served in the U.S. government as an intelligence analyst and policy official, including at the CIA, National Intelligence Council, and National Security Council.
Jen Patja is the editor and producer of The Lawfare Podcast and Rational Security. She currently serves as the Co-Executive Director of Virginia Civics, a nonprofit organization that empowers the next generation of leaders in Virginia by promoting constitutional literacy, critical thinking, and civic engagement. She is the former Deputy Director of the Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution at James Madison's Montpelier and has been a freelance editor for over 20 years.

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