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Republican Gains in Congress Would Pressure Biden on Ukraine and Iran

Republican Gains in Congress Would Pressure Biden on Ukraine and Iran

WASHINGTON — A Republican takeover of the House or Senate in next week’s midterm elections could complicate the Biden administration’s efforts to defend Ukraine, slow confirmation of key U.S. ambassadors and lead to interrogations of officials involved in the US withdrawal from Afghanistan over the past year.

Congress has more leverage over domestic affairs than foreign policy, thanks to the president’s broad powers as commander-in-chief. But Democrats are bracing for a much more complicated — and, they fear, more politicized — national security environment if Republicans control legislative calendars, committee chairs and spending power.

Most worrisome for the Biden administration is the prospect that Republicans could slow the torrent of money and weapons to Ukraine that began before Russia’s invasion in February. Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the Minority Leader, said last month that a Republican-led House would be does not want to approve ‘blank check’ aid for Ukraine.

Congress has approved $60 billion in aid to Ukraine since the war began, with no explicit strings attached. But some Republicans, encouraged by prominent conservatives like Fox News host Tucker Carlson, are increasingly questioning the price of American aid to the country.

Many conservatives, however, doubt that Mr McCarthy’s comment and those of some Republican candidates mean the Republican-led House will limit US support.

Danielle Pletka, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a former Republican Senate foreign policy staffer, called Mr McCarthy’s remarks a “completely empty and flattering statement” and said she was not worried. not about the party’s commitment to defending Ukraine.

I think it was only a toss in the water of this growing divide within the Republican Party between the traditionalist and internationalist wing and the populist and orban wing of the party,” Ms Pletka said, referring to the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a strongman who has become a hero to many conservative supporters of former President Donald J. Trump.

Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky implicitly berated Mr McCarthy when he said last month that the United States should do even more to support Kyiv. But several Republican champions of the Senate of Ukraine are retiring at the end of this Congress: Rob Portman of Ohio, Richard Burr of North Carolina and Ben Sasse of Nebraska.

One possible scenario would be a new Republican emphasis on oversight to ensure that US weapons and aid are not diverted from their intended use, in a country with a history of deep corruption. The memo was issued in June by the two Republicans vying to become chairmen of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

U.S. aid to Ukraine “will not be effective or politically sustainable without strong oversight and accountability mechanisms,” wrote Representative Mike McCaul of Texas and Senator Jim Risch of Idaho. Both men say they continue to support aid to Ukraine.

Mr. McCaul and Mr. Risch have strongly criticized the Biden administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. Both would likely summon Biden officials, including Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, to public hearings.

Mr McCaul wrote to Mr. Blinken in mid-October, asking the State Department to preserve all documents and communications that could “potentially respond to a future Congressional investigation, request, inquiry, or subpoena.”

In an August statement on the first anniversary of the fall of Kabul, Mr. Risch complained that “we still don’t have full answers about how the Biden administration didn’t see it coming and didn’t have an effective plan in place to evacuate American citizens and Afghan partners.”

“They’re going to drag the Biden administration over the embers of Afghanistan,” Ms Pletka said.

Several Republicans have called for Mr. Blinken to step down after Kabul was evacuated, and two House Republicans introduced a resolution calling for his removal. But Republicans say they don’t expect such efforts to gain traction.

Mr. McCaul is particularly interested in China and has expressed impatience with the delivery rate of American weapons purchased by Taiwan for its defense against a possible Chinese invasion. He also said he would insist on further tightening export controls to deprive China of critical US technology it could use for military purposes.

Rep led a Republican House China task force which published a report in 2020 calling for actions such as increased military spending, new sanctions to punish Chinese human rights abuses, and more aggressive measures to counter Chinese propaganda.

Republicans in both houses are eager to pressure the Biden administration on its policy toward Iran. Many Republicans have criticized President Biden for not doing more to support protesters who have been demonstrating for weeks against the country’s clerical regime.

“Republicans are going to put Iran back on the front burner in Washington,” said Mark Dubowitz, chief executive of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a hawkish think tank that calls for relentless pressure on the Iranian government.

“Republicans are going to introduce sanctions bills,” he said.

Republican gains in Congress would also further complicate Mr. Biden’s efforts to resuscitate the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which Mr. Trump abandoned.

International talks to restore the agreement have been stalled for weeksand Biden officials doubt Tehran is willing to cut its nuclear program again for sanctions relief.

But big Republican gains in the US Senate could make a surprise breakthrough harder to pull off. Under legislation passed by Congress in 2015, the House and Senate can vote to express their disapproval of a nuclear deal with Tehran and block the president’s ability to lift sanctions on the Iranian economy previously imposed by Congress. .

Making things even harder for Mr. Biden will be the expected return as Israeli Prime Minister of Benjamin Netanyahu, who had close ties to Republican leaders in Congress. The Obama White House was furious in 2015 when Mr Netanyahu accepted an invitation to address Congress from Republican President John Boehner and criticized Mr Obama’s efforts to strike a nuclear deal with Iran. .

Like many Republicans in Congress, Mr. Netanyahu has sharply criticized Mr. Biden’s efforts to negotiate with Iran and could again work in a de facto alliance with them.

A Republican Senate could also further slow the confirmation of Mr. Biden’s nominees for national security posts across government. In particular, the administration is still waiting for the Senate to confirm more than three dozen nominees for ambassadorships, as well as other choices for mid- and senior-level positions at the State Department. They include ambassadors to Russia, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, India, Nigeria and the United Arab Emirates.

Senate Democrats hope to confirm several before the end of the year. If they cannot, the nominations expire and the candidates must be renominated at the start of the next Congress.