February 2, 2023

Top Pentagon officials on Friday appeared steadfast in the face of concerns about potential deep cuts to U.S. military support for Ukraine following reports that Rep. Kevin McCarthy is considering dramatic concessions to far-right members of Congress to secure the House speakership.

Laura Cooper, the top Defense Department official for Russia and Ukraine, who has helped manage tens of billions of dollars in congressionally approved aid over the 10 months since Moscow’s invasion, was adamant Friday when asked about the effect of not having a speaker of the House in place – a standoff that prevents the legislature from conducting any other business, including approving new forms of aid to Ukraine.

“I’m still pushing forward,” Cooper asserted swiftly in response to the question from a reporter, “providing the Ukrainians with what they need, when they need it.”

“My day-to-day is not affected right now.”

Her comments came almost exactly as news broke that McCarthy, California Republican, had failed in his 13th bid to secure the speakership. Though he has whittled away at what became a growing bloc of hard-line Republicans who refused to support his nomination, it remains unclear whether he can change the minds of enough of the remaining holdouts who compose the GOP’s razor-thin majority in the chamber.

Reports have emerged that McCarthy is considering as much as $75 billion in cuts to the defense budget for helping to defend Ukraine against Russia’s unprovoked invasion in order to win over right-wing members who have balked at the idea of writing a “blank check” to Ukraine with American taxpayer money.

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“We have enjoyed tremendous bipartisan support for Ukraine security assistance,” Cooper said when asked specifically about those reports. “While I certainly would imagine that the details of that assistance would evolve over time, I still would anticipate strong support from the U.S. Congress.”

“And we will continue to partner with the Congress and ensure we are working with them to address our national security needs, to include by protecting Ukraine’s sovereignty.”

Pentagon spokesman Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, who spoke alongside Cooper, also stressed the importance of the military aid.

“If you step back and look at the consequences of not supporting Ukraine, which was illegally invaded, what precedent does that set and how expensive would it be to address the kind of world we would live in should we not support Ukraine and countries like that?”

The tenor of their appeal was notable for military spokespeople, who generally strive to appear deferential to whatever edicts come down from Congress – a recognition of the central tenet of the U.S. government in civilian control of the military.

Friday’s news came as the Pentagon announced details of more than $3 billion in new military equipment and aid for Ukraine – the largest single package of support yet. The shipments will include for the first time Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, which in addition to transporting troops wield the kind of firepower and armor that could inflict serious damage on Russian tanks – among the few technical edges that the Kremlin’s forces currently employ in Ukraine.

Cooper said Friday the new equipment will “change the dynamic on the battlefield” once Ukrainians are trained and prepared to field and maintain them, likely within the next two or three months.

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