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ICYMI: The White House’s Dismal Response to Rep. Garcia’s Ukraine Funding Memo

Representative Mike Garcia (CA-27) received an unsatisfactory response from the White House after releasing a report outlining demands for the consideration of additional Ukraine funding.

Representative Mike Garcia (CA-27) received an unsatisfactory response from the White House after releasing a report outlining demands for the consideration of additional Ukraine funding. Rep. Garcia’s report calls for a full accounting of U.S. aid already given to Ukraine, a clear path toward victory, and an exit strategy.

Click here to read Rep. Garcia’s full report on the Ukraine funding debate.

The White House’s response to Rep. Garcia’s report reaffirmed his concern: The Biden administration is endlessly funding a stalemate in Ukraine with no accountability or exit strategy. Recently, the White House requested an additional $61 billion in Ukraine funding. This request is yet another example of President Biden’s blank-check strategy in Ukraine that only serves to ensure a tie, not a victory.

Read the full Politico exclusive below.

GOP skeptics asked the White House for its plan for Ukraine. They won't like the answer.

House Republican critics have spent months pressing the Biden administration to better explain the endgame for the war in Ukraine before they sign off on more money.

Now the White House has answered them, and the response likely isn’t enough to move the needle, according to one Republican at the center of the fight.

The White House made the case for its approach to Ukraine and President Joe Biden’s $61.4 billion supplemental request to assist Kyiv in a lengthy response, obtained by POLITICO, to a House GOP memo outlining concerns with the administration’s approach authored by Rep. Mike Garcia (R-Calif.).

But Garcia, whose white paper outlined GOP skeptics’ concerns about how aid is spent and the possibility of an open-ended conflict, argued the Biden administration’s counter is effectively to hold the line.

"Overall, it was affirmation that they are intentionally being ambiguous about what the objectives are," Garcia said of the White House response in an interview. "And it clearly doesn't scratch the itch in terms of compelling people to want to support it."

The back and forth offers a window into the behind-the-scenes wrangling between the White House and skeptical Republicans on further Ukraine funding. Congress has largely sidestepped Biden’s Ukraine requests for months, while support among GOP House lawmakers has cratered in recent test votes on the issue.

It also signals that those Republicans who flipped against new funding for Kyiv or are on the fence are unlikely to be swayed by this most recent argument. Garcia, an appropriator and former Navy pilot, has voted against recent Ukraine funding and argues the administration hasn’t adequately defined a strategy for the protracted conflict.

"Everyone knows that Ukraine needs money. Everyone knows that Ukraine being victorious is good for the planet," he said. "We all get that. The question is, how do we win? How do we enable a victory? And how do we prevent this from being effectively a stalemate?"

In its response to the GOP memo, the administration reiterated its argument that Russian President Vladimir Putin “thinks he can wait us out” by dragging the conflict out until the appetite of the U.S. and its European allies to assist Ukraine runs out.

"If we don't stop Putin in Ukraine, he is likely to continue his quest for power and control beyond Ukraine's borders toward NATO,” the administration contended.

Asked for comment, a National Security Council official further defended the administration's posture. The White House is "very actively engaged" with House leaders on the supplemental, but the U.S. can't dictate terms to Ukraine, either.

"When this is going to end is going to be up to Russia and to Ukraine," said the NSC official, who was granted anonymity to discuss the unfolding dynamics.

The administration also underscored the importance of “maintaining support to Ukraine in concert with our allies through at least 2025.” The NSC official clarified that isn’t a forecast for more money in 2025, but a reflection that the supplemental would last through fiscal 2024 and means weapons deliveries will likely continue into fiscal 2025.

Though assistance for Ukraine still has broad bipartisan backing, House Republican support for further funding has waned during the war’s second year. The latest vote in September to provide just $300 million in Pentagon funding to arm Kyiv saw 117 Republicans — a majority — vote against the legislation. And Republicans managed to pass their annual defense spending bill only after that money was stripped from the legislation.

Neither the House nor the Senate has acted yet on Biden’s supplemental request to assist Ukraine and Israel, deter China in the Pacific and bolster border security. Lawmakers never voted on a smaller $24 billion Ukraine package Biden sent to Congress in August.

In the intervening months, a slew of bipartisan closed-door efforts have attempted to dislodge the stalled aid. House Intelligence Chair Mike Turner (R-Ohio), one of the most outspoken Republican supporters of Ukraine funding, and Armed Services ranking member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) have facilitated briefings from the administration on oversight of U.S. aid and strategy for small groups of House Republicans.

Garcia also said that he’s met with administration officials in the wake of the response to his white paper, including White House budget chief Shalanda Young.

Republicans in both chambers have also signaled that new Ukraine aid should be paired with significant border policy changes favored by conservatives.

Garcia’s memo poses 12 questions and conditions for Biden related to the course of the conflict and Ukraine spending, including: outlining a strategy to win the war and a price tag for executing it; a call for Biden and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to update the public on the state of the war and explain what would happen if U.S. investments in Ukraine cease; an assessment of whether the U.S. and Ukraine are aligned on Crimea, and whether the U.S. believes Kyiv’s push to reclaim it is realistic; and a commitment that the administration’s assistance isn’t impacting U.S. weapons programs or arms sales to Taiwan or Israel.

New Speaker Mike Johnson, who will have to navigate a fractured GOP conference on Ukraine, gave the memo to administration officials last month at a White House classified briefing, according to a Garcia spokesperson.

The effort was co-signed by GOP Reps. Brad Wenstrup of Ohio, Jack Bergman of Michigan, Dan Crenshaw of Texas, Jen Kiggans of Virginia and August Pfluger of Texas.

Further funding for Ukraine has become a politically toxic issue in the House GOP conference, Garcia predicted most of those holdouts could be convinced to vote for a slimmed-down request with a long-term strategy behind it.

"Let's talk about what we're trying to fund," Wenstrup said this month. "Just dollars falling from the sky don't win any war. So, you've got to spell out how you're going to do it."

Garcia argued lawmakers should “right-size” Biden’s Ukraine request by stripping out humanitarian funding, leaving the issue to allies and trimming the total price tag to $15-$20 billion. A package should also include border policy changes pushed by Republicans.

"The center of gravity is where I'm at right now, which is they're not opposed to funding Ukraine, they just want to right-size it," Garcia said. "They want to execute a knockout punch and they want to win this war, but with the U.S. being the munitions provider, not the humanitarian aid or direct budget provider."

Garcia has also been pushing to include up to $4 billion for his proposal to significantly boost the basic pay of junior enlisted U.S. troops in a supplemental bill. The plan was funded in the House-passed defense spending bill, though the administration opposes the plan over its cost.

In response to the GOP memo’s call for Biden and Austin to update the public on the status of the war, the White House also said in its response that national security adviser Jake Sullivan will give a major speech on the status of the war in Ukraine “within the next two months.” The planned address follows Biden’s Oval Office speech in October to make the case to the American public for his aid package for Ukraine and Israel.

The administration also emphasized that half of the Ukraine request stays in the U.S., paying for replacement weapons made across the country and “creating jobs.” It reiterates Biden’s latest argument, made in his Oval Office address, linking Ukraine aid to his push to create jobs and revitalize American manufacturing, which is a central part of the economic message in his reelection bid.

And though it argued sanctions and other actions “are degrading Moscow’s ability to wage war,” the White House concluded Russia will keep up its fight in Ukraine “for the foreseeable future.”

"Putin believes his industrial base has ramped up faster than ours because Russia has more excess manufacturing capacity for munitions,” the administration argued. “While we will catch up and eventually surpass them, they have a window of opportunity in the next year."

The administration’s response to House Republicans also asserted that Ukraine aid “is not jeopardizing” U.S. weapons programs or security assistance to Taiwan or Israel.