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Zelensky Delivers His Wish List to Washington
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Zelensky Delivers His Wish List to Washington

The Ukrainian president makes a personal pitch for continued military aid.

Happy Friday! If you’re from New Jersey, you know that commuting delays can often inspire some colorful language. Yesterday, however, the hold ups at Newark Penn Station were—and we do not mean to exaggerate—literal bull.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • President Joe Biden urged the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) on Thursday to reduce civilian casualties while continuing its military operations against Hamas in Gaza. “I want them to be focused on how to save civilian lives, not stop going after Hamas,” Biden said. His comments come just two days after he described Israel’s bombing campaign as indiscriminate at a fundraiser, though White House spokesman John Kirby on Wednesday told reporters he believes the Israelis are “doing everything they can to reduce civilian casualties.” National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Nentanyahu and his war cabinet in Tel Aviv on Thursday and reportedly pushed Netanyahu to end Israel’s “high intensity” fighting in Gaza and transition to smaller-scale operations. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told Sullivan that the IDF’s campaign to rid the enclave of Hamas is not yet over. “It will last more than several months,” he said. “But we will win and we will destroy them.”
  • Authorities in Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands said Thursday that seven people in their countries had been arrested as suspects in terror plots targeting Jews in Europe—four of the people arrested (three in Germany and one in the Netherlands) are Hamas members, according to German officials. It’s unclear whether the three individuals arrested in Denmark were also members of Hamas, though Danish authorities signaled that Jewish institutions were “a special focus” of concern. The Israeli intelligence service, Mossad, said that the people arrested in Denmark were “acting on behalf of the terrorist organization Hamas.” 
  • The European Union (EU) officially opened accession negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova on Thursday. While it will likely take years before either country becomes an official member of the European bloc, the start of talks marks a big win for Ukraine, which has sought membership for years. “This is a victory for Ukraine,” said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. “A victory that motivates, inspires, and strengthens.” Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán had opposed opening talks and boycotted the vote yesterday, continuing to block a $52 billion EU aid package to Ukraine.
  • Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced Thursday that the Senate will remain in session next week in the hopes of reaching a deal with Republicans regarding funding to Ukraine, saying he would hold a vote on an aid package next week regardless. The prospect of such an agreement grew more likely earlier this week when the White House signaled its openness to compromising on border policies in order to secure a deal. “It is going in the right direction, we believe, because those conversations continue and that’s what matters as we talk about the border and border security and moving forward with making sure we get the supplemental done,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said yesterday.
  • The Commerce Department reported Thursday that retail sales—including spending on food and fuel—increased 0.3 percent month-over-month in November after declining 0.2 percent in October. Consumers spent more than expected on bars and restaurants, sporting goods stores, and online retailers as the holiday shopping season heated up.
  • An Associated Press-NORC poll released Thursday showed that many Americans are unsatisfied with the increasingly likely rematch between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump in next November’s general election. According to the poll, more than half of the country is unhappy with their current options: 56 percent of respondents said they’d be somewhat or very dissatisfied if Biden becomes the Democratic nominee, and 58 percent said the same if Trump becomes the GOP nominee. The results come as a growing chorus of polls spell potential trouble for Biden’s reelection bid. A Bloomberg News/Morning Consult poll published Thursday found that if the election were held today, Trump would beat Biden in seven swing states. The former president’s projected victories in Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin are within the margin of error in the poll, but greater in Georgia and North Carolina.
  • Republican Rep. Drew Ferguson of Georgia announced Thursday that he would not seek reelection to his seat next year, adding another name to the wave of congressional retirements over the last two months. Ferguson said he and his wife “look[ed] forward to spending more time with our children and grandchildren,” but the Georgian and his family reported receiving death threats after he voted against Rep. Jim Jordan’s short-lived House speakership bid in October. Democratic Rep. Wiley Nickel of North Carolina also announced he wouldn’t run for reelection, after Republican-led redistricting reshaped his district in October. Nickel said he would instead explore a Senate run in 2026.

Back in the U.S.A

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and U.S. President Joe Biden shake hands while meeting in the Oval Office at the White House on December 12, 2023 in Washington, D.C.   (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and U.S. President Joe Biden shake hands while meeting in the Oval Office at the White House on December 12, 2023 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Russia fired ballistic missiles targeting Kyiv early Wednesday morning, injuring more than 50 people. The attacks came just after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met with leaders in Washington to plead his case for more aid—and left empty handed.

The overnight attack on the war-torn nation’s capital was a stark reminder that the war in Ukraine rages on as President Joe Biden and Congress continue to negotiate a deal to reform border policy in exchange for more support to Ukraine. Biden and congressional Democrats echo Zelensky’s concerns that aid is imminently needed to resupply ammunition and stave off a particularly dangerous Russian onslaught this winter. Many Republicans, including House Speaker Mike Johnson, agree with these concerns, but argue any foreign aid must be part of a larger legislative package, including border and immigration policy changes. Zelensky’s trip marked his third to the U.S. since the war began, and included perhaps his most urgent plea for help to date—though with the House of Representatives already adjourned until the new year, there’s a very real chance he doesn’t get the military assistance he’s asking for.

As we wrote last week, previously appropriated U.S. aid to Ukraine is running out:

Congress has thus far allocated a total of $111 billion in funding for Ukraine since Russia invaded in February 2022. Still, [White House budget director Shalanda] Young paints a bleak picture: Of the current appropriations, “[The Department of Defense] has used 97 percent of the $62.3 billion it received, and [the Department of State] has used 100 percent of the $4.7 billion in military assistance it received,” she wrote. “Approximately $27.2 billion, or 24 percent, has been used for economic assistance and civilian security assistance (such as demining) to Ukraine, which is just as essential to Ukraine’s survival as military assistance. State and USAID have used 100 percent of this amount.”

Meanwhile, Ukraine is running low on critical military infrastructure and faces a shortage of artillery shells—much of their ammunition has been provided by foreign allies. “The Ukrainians pretty much are out of offensive capacity, mostly because they ran out of ammunition to keep going,” Dmitri Alperovitch, founder of the Silverado Policy Accelerator think tank, told TMD. “And they probably won’t have significant amounts of ammunition for much of next year, just because of the limitations of Western production.”

Zelensky—who was originally scheduled to virtually address a Senate meeting in early December, but canceled at the last minute—traveled to D.C. to make his case for support in person. 

He met with the heads of several U.S.-based defense contractors to thank them for the weaponry already provided. And his visit to Congress on Tuesday included conversations with House Democrats and a bipartisan selection of senators, in which he addressed some Republican concerns about corruption in the Ukrainian government, and largely avoided weighing in on the congressional negotiations over an aid package. “We are working through the process,” said Republican Sen. Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma after the meeting. “And he understood it. He was very respectful. [He] said, ‘I understand it. I’m just here to let you know we need you guys.’” Republican Sen. J.D. Vance of Ohio, an outspoken critic of providing additional financial support to Ukraine, walked out of the meeting early.

Speaker Johnson voiced his continued support for the Ukrainian war effort, but reiterated his dedication to striking a deal that puts “our own national security first,” referencing the southern border. Johnson also argued that more detail on the Ukrainian war strategy is needed. “I have asked the White House since the day I was handed the gavel as speaker for clarity,” he told reporters on Tuesday. “We need clear articulation of the strategy to allow Ukraine to win. And thus far their answers have been insufficient. … What the Biden administration is asking for is billions of additional dollars with no appropriate oversight and no clear strategy to win, and none of the answers that the American people are owed.”

As the war enters its second winter and Ukraine faces dwindling ammunition stocks, the need for a winning strategy is palpable. “My fundamental issue with the counteroffensive has always been that, even if it had been wildly successful, even if you imagine a scenario where Ukraine would take back every inch of their territory, including Crimea, including the Donbas, the problem that I always had is the assumption that it would somehow end the war,” said Alperovitch. “That chance was always very low. And what it would do is simply just move the frontline to Ukraine’s 2014 borders, but the war will continue for as long as Putin wants it to continue. So to really end the war, you have to break the will of the Russian elites to keep fighting it. And that means not just winning on the battlefield in Ukraine itself, but being able to make life miserable in Russia and being able to destroy their military capabilities and infrastructure in Russia itself.”

Zelensky’s visit to Washington on Tuesday concluded with a joint press conference with Biden, where the president promised to deliver pre-approved military aid to Ukraine. “We’ll continue to supply Ukraine with critical weapons and equipment as long as we can,” Biden said, notably departing from his promise in July to support Ukraine for “as long as it takes.” Still, Biden voiced his steadfast support for Ukrainian victory on Tuesday. “We want to see Ukraine win the war,” he said. “And, as I’ve said before, winning means Ukraine is a sovereign, independent nation and—that can afford to defend itself today and deter further aggression. That’s our objective.” 

In an effort to convince lawmakers of the need for decisive action, the Biden administration earlier this week declassified intelligence assessments that purportedly show Russia believes it is helped by a stalemate—despite suffering heavy losses—as drawn-out fighting erodes Western support for Ukraine. More than 13,000 Russian soldiers have been killed or wounded in eastern Ukraine since October, according to U.S. intelligence, and the Ukrainian military has destroyed about 220 Russian combat vehicles in that same timeframe.

Given those casualty figures, it’s difficult to claim the war is actually at a stalemate . “There’s no stalemate,” he said. “The Ukrainians, it’s true, have failed in their objectives in this counteroffensive. However, the Russians are once again on the offensive. They’re building up capabilities, particularly on the munition side, and armaments. … So the challenge for the Ukrainians will be to hold out next year, to take the brunt of the Russian assaults, and then get ready for a new offensive late next year or early [2025].”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced Thursday that the Senate will reconvene next week in an effort to negotiate a deal for more aid to Ukraine. And though the House has already left town until January, key Republicans continued to underscore the need for a deal. “The GOP is ready to continue to support Ukraine as long as Senate Democrats and the White House get serious about the policy and enforcement changes needed to secure America’s southern border,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Mike McCaul told TMD. “Our border must be impregnable; the American people and my constituents in Texas demand it. So, too, must the borders of Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan be secured against the unholy alliance between Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran and its proxies.”

Still, the Ukrainian military might not have time to wait for the House to reconvene and negotiate a deal with the White House. “If [Ukraine is] not going to get more aid, they’re going to lose territory, and they may lose the war,” said Alperovitch. “Because if you don’t have ammunition, if you don’t have weapon systems, if you don’t have air defense interceptors, you’re not going to be able to hold. So the aid is absolutely essential, not just for enabling Ukrainian offenses, but really for making sure that they actually keep their country.”

Worth Your Time 

  • In a 16,000-word essay for The Economist, James Bennet—the former editorial page editor at the New York Times who was fired for running an op-ed in the summer of 2020 by Sen. Tom Cotton that advocated for the deployment of the National Guard to quell increasingly violent protests—criticized the higher-ups of the Gray Lady for caving to various pressures. “One of the glories of embracing illiberalism is that, like Trump, you are always right about everything, and so you are justified in shouting disagreement down,” Bennet wrote. “In the face of this, leaders of many workplaces and boardrooms across America find that it is so much easier to compromise than to confront—to give a little ground today in the belief you can ultimately bring people around. This is how reasonable Republican leaders lost control of their party to Trump and how liberal-minded college presidents lost control of their campuses. And it is why the leadership of the New York Times is losing control of its principles.” The Times has lost its way, Bennet argued. “Since Adolph Ochs bought the paper in 1896, one of the most inspiring things the Times has said about itself is that it does its work ‘without fear or favour,’” he wrote. “That is not true of the institution today—it cannot be, not when its journalists are afraid to trust readers with a mainstream conservative argument such as Cotton’s, and its leaders are afraid to say otherwise. As preoccupied as it is with the question of why so many Americans have lost trust in it, the Times is failing to face up to one crucial reason: that it has lost faith in Americans, too. For now, to assert that the Times plays by the same rules it always has is to commit a hypocrisy that is transparent to conservatives, dangerous to liberals and bad for the country as a whole. It makes the Times too easy for conservatives to dismiss and too easy for progressives to believe. The reality is that the Times is becoming the publication through which America’s progressive elite talks to itself about an America that does not really exist.”

Presented Without Comment

Former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, delivering his farewell address on the House floor: “If you come across that question of whether you should do what’s right out of fear of losing your job, do it anyways. Because it’s the right thing to do, and this is what the nation requires.”

Also Presented Without Comment

The Wall Street Journal: Hong Kong Issues Bounties for More Exiled Dissidents

Another Great Dispatch Event

Thank you to the hundreds of Dispatch members who came from near and far to join Jonah and Kevin last night in Bellevue, Washington. We hope you had a blast!

Attendees of a Dispatch regional event gather in Bellevue, Washington, on December 14, 2023. (Photo via Ryan Brown.)
Attendees of a Dispatch regional event gather in Bellevue, Washington, on December 14, 2023. (Photo via Ryan Brown.)

Toeing the Company Line

  • In the newsletters: Nick outlined (🔒) what he thinks will happen after a Trump primary landslide.
  • On the podcasts: In his Dispatch Podcast debut, John McCormack is joined by Sarah, Steve, and Mike to discuss the Biden impeachment inquiry, the Texas abortion controversy, and proper karaoke etiquette.
  • On the site: Drucker reports on No Labels’ recent stumbles and Kevin breaks down Argentina’s push to dollarize.  

Let Us Know

If the Senate can work out a compromise Ukraine-border package, do you think the House should return to Washington to vote on it?

James Scimecca works on editorial partnerships for The Dispatch, and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he served as the director of communications at the Empire Center for Public Policy. When James is not promoting the work of his Dispatch colleagues, he can usually be found running along the Potomac River, cooking up a new recipe, or rooting for a beleaguered New York sports team.

Grayson Logue is the deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he worked in political risk consulting, helping advise Fortune 50 companies. He was also an assistant editor at Providence Magazine and is a graduate student at the University of Edinburgh, pursuing a Master’s degree in history. When Grayson is not helping write The Morning Dispatch, he is probably working hard to reduce the number of balls he loses on the golf course.