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Zelensky’s Whirlwind U.S. Tour
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Zelensky’s Whirlwind U.S. Tour

The Ukrainian president faces resistance as he makes the case for continued support.

Happy Friday! Thanks to all the Dispatch members who joined Steve, Declan, and Andrew in Des Moines Thursday night. We hope you enjoyed getting to know each other a little better outside of the comments section—stay tuned for details on future meetups! 

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The Biden administration expanded the Temporary Protected Status program for Venezuelan migrants on Wednesday, making eligible for employment an estimated 472,000 Venezuelans who entered the country before July 31. The program has already provided 242,000 Venezuelans with temporary status. Biden’s move comes as his administration faces pressure from the leaders of Democratic cities to help with the large influx of migrants. The border city of Eagle Pass, Texas, declared a state of emergency Thursday as more than 10,000 migrants are projected to enter the city of 28,000 this week. 
  • House Speaker Kevin McCarthy failed again Thursday to bring a defense spending bill to the floor as a small contingent of Republican hardliners blocked a procedural rule, incensing the rest of the Republican conference. “This is a whole new concept of individuals that just want to burn the whole place down,” McCarthy said after the vote. The speaker had planned to pass the defense bill this week and then vote on a stop-gap measure to temporarily fund the government, but he sent lawmakers home for the weekend after the vote failed.
  • The Senate voted to confirm Marine Corps Gen. Eric M. Smith and Army Gen. Randy George to lead their respective services on Thursday by votes of 96-0 for Smith and 96-1 for George. The confirmations mark more progress in bypassing Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s mass hold on military promotions. 
  • Indian authorities announced Thursday that they would stop issuing new visas to Canadians and requested that Canada reduce its diplomatic mission in the country. The blanket visa hold is a further escalation in the countries’ conflict over the killing of a Canadian Sikh leader, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, in British Columbia, which Canada alleges could have happened at the direction of the Indian government.
  • Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the United States have signaled progress in efforts to normalize relations between Riyadh and Jerusalem as President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met at the United Nations General Assembly this week. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said the prospect of normalization is “getting closer every day” in a rare interview with Fox News on Wednesday. The Biden administration is reportedly weighing mutual defense pacts with both countries as part of the peace deal, but the contours of such agreements—and whether they would require congressional approval—remain unclear.
  • David McCormick—an Army veteran and former hedge fund executive—announced Thursday he is running to unseat Democratic Sen. Bob Casey in 2024. McCormick ran in the 2022 Republican primary for the seat, narrowly losing to celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz, who in turn lost to John Fetterman in the general election. McCormick enters the race with the backing of Pennsylvania’s Republican congressional delegation.
  • Rupert Murdoch said yesterday that he is stepping down as chairman of the boards of Fox and News Corporation. The 92-year-old media magnate’s son Lachlan will replace him as the chairman of both boards. Rupert will become chairman emeritus.

Mr. Zelensky Goes (Back) to Washington

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and U.S. President Joe Biden walk to the Oval Office of the White House September 21, 2023. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and U.S. President Joe Biden walk to the Oval Office of the White House September 21, 2023. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

In July 2022, Kevin McCarthy delivered a midterm campaign stump speech to a room full of Republicans in Columbia, South Carolina. Five months after Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, the then-House minority leader made a pointed historical analogy: He compared Russian President Vladimir Putin’s assault to Adolf Hitler’s actions leading up to World War II. In McCarthy’s telling, President Joe Biden—and former President Barack Obama before him—stood in as a modern-day Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister who sought to appease Hitler’s bloodlust until it was too late.

“What did Hitler see?” McCarthy asked. “Weakness. And one year later, he invades Poland.” Then he fast-forwarded to February 2022. “Putin saw [in Joe Biden] the same thing Hitler saw: weakness. So what did he do? The same thing Hitler did. He invaded Ukraine.”

The point McCarthy wanted his audience to take away? Learn from history.“We don’t have to go to war,” he said. “Why don’t we just supply the weapons ahead of time so they can defend themselves?” His audience applauded.

Fourteen months later, McCarthy’s logic seems lost on many of his fellow Republicans—and on the speaker himself. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky swung through the United States this week with visits to the United Nations General Assembly in New York City, Congress, the White House, and the Pentagon to make that very point: Help us fight our own war. But amid support from lawmakers on Capitol Hill Thursday, Zelensky also found an increasingly vocal anti-Ukraine Republican Party. The Biden administration’s supplemental request for $24 billion in aid to the country is now in limbo as Republican infighting stymies efforts to fund the government. And while Biden vowed to continue to support Kyiv’s fight, U.S. officials nevertheless denied Zelensky’s perennial request for longer-range weapons to aid Ukraine’s slow-going counteroffensive. 

Before Zelensky could make his case to McCarthy and other congressional Republicans, though, he had to shore up international support in New York on Tuesday and Wednesday at the U.N. General Assembly. Zelensky urged unity during his address to world leaders and argued that the stakes of Ukraine’s defense reach beyond its own borders. “Many seats in the General Assembly Hall may become empty if Russia succeeds with its treachery and aggression,” he warned Tuesday, making his own explicit references to World War II.

Zelensky condemned Russia for kidnapping Ukrainian children and sending them to Russia, calling the abductions an act of genocide meant to erase the country’s unique identity. “The goal of the present war is to turn our land, our people, our resources, into a weapon against you—against the international rules-based order,” he said. “Ukraine is doing everything to ensure that after Russian aggression, no one in the world will dare to attack any nation.” 

But cracks in the international coalition supporting Ukraine are nevertheless beginning to show, even among Ukraine’s longstanding partners. Poland—one of Ukraine’s most stalwart supporters, receiving refugees and providing weapons early and often—said this week it would no longer send new arms to Kyiv because of a growing spat over Ukrainian grain sales to it and Bulgaria, Hungary, and Slovakia. Kyiv and Warsaw have now taken steps toward a compromise agreement, but as part of the ongoing tit-for-tat, Zelensky called out his country’s neighbors Wednesday: “It is alarming to see how some in Europe, some of our friends in Europe, play out solidarity in a political theater—making a thriller from the grain.”

While Zelensky made a pitch in defense of the “rules-based international order,” he isn’t entirely satisfied with every element of that system. In a separate speech Wednesday to the Security Council—the U.N.’s most powerful organ whose five permanent, veto-wielding members can order certain military interventions when in agreement—he condemned Russia’s fixed seat at the famous horseshoe-shaped table. “Ukrainian soldiers are doing with their blood what the U.N. Security Council should do by its voting,” he said, sitting across from Russia’s envoy. “Veto power in the hands of the aggressor is what has pushed the U.N. into deadlock.”  

From New York, Zelensky traveled to Washington, D.C., for a whirlwind day-long visit. The last time Zelensky set foot in the hallowed halls of the United States Capitol last December, he received a hero’s welcome and addressed a joint session of Congress in prime time, flanked by then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Kamala Harris. 

The weather was warmer, but Zelensky’s reception was much chillier this week. McCarthy—hostage to his conference’s increasingly vocal skepticism of continued aid to Ukraine and in the middle of a bruising battle to fund the government that could put his speakership at risk—declined Zelensky’s request for another chance to address a joint session. McCarthy also passed on a chance for his conference to hear a classified briefing from Biden administration officials on the state of the war. “We just didn’t have time,” McCarthy told reporters Thursday of the joint session address. 

Zelensky did meet with all the senators who were so inclined, in what Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal described to The Dispatch as the “intimate, but very stately setting” of the old Senate chamber. Not everyone attended, though. “I didn’t hear a word he said,” Republican Sen. Roger Marshall of Kansas told The Dispatch. “I’m in here doing real work.” 

As with McCarthy, Marshall’s current outlook on Ukraine doesn’t match that of 2022. “The Ukrainians will fight to the death here,” Marshall told the hosts of Good Morning America last year, sporting a lapel pin with the U.S. and Ukrainian flags. “There’s actually a path to victory if America will step up, if Europe will step up.” 

McCarthy—who, since becoming speaker, has waffled on his degree of support for Ukraine—met with Zelensky privately Thursday, unlike his counterparts in House and Senate leadership who strolled with the Ukrainian president before the assembled press. “I have questions for him,” McCarthy said earlier this week. “Where’s the accountability on the money we already spent? What’s the plan for victory? I think that’s what the American public wants to know.” Those concerns were echoed in an open letter to the White House signed by 29 Republican lawmakers, including Marshall, Utah Sen. Mike Lee, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance, Texas Rep. Chip Roy, and Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar, though McCarthy was not one of the signatories. Many of them are part of a reliable group of Ukraine aid nay-sayers

Even hawkish Republican members have general concerns about aid oversight, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Roger Wicker, and the Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Jim Risch. But they say the Pentagon is sufficiently addressing those concerns, and they shouldn’t stand in the way of continued aid. “At our insistence, the inspectors general at the State Department, USAID, and Department of Defense are doing a tremendous job at overseeing our assistance to Ukraine,” Risch said Wednesday in response to the appointment of a lead DOD inspector general for Ukraine

They may be happy with that oversight, but many of those same lawmakers are unsatisfied with the Biden administration’s military support for Ukraine’s war effort so far. After Zelensky visited the Pentagon Thursday, he went to the White House for a meeting with Biden, who announced a $325 million aid package—mostly composed of air defense munitions—through the Presidential Drawdown Authority, which allows the president to send arms from existing U.S. military stockpiles. Missing from that package is the Army’s Tactical Missile System, or ATACMS, a long-range missile system Ukraine has repeatedly requested in order to strike targets deep behind Russian lines and on the Russian-occupied Crimean peninsula. “Does the Biden administration want Ukraine to win, or not?” Wicker said Thursday. “Every delay in supplying Ukraine with the tools it needs to secure victory has cost unnecessary lives and prolonged the war … This is yet another example of the dangerous drip-drip-drip approach by the Biden administration, which has failed to give Ukraine a bigger advantage.” 

One Republican congressional aide tells TMD that delay on ATACMS is in part due to the conflicting priorities of the Biden administration and a complicated approval process among the various executive agencies responsible for Ukraine policy. 

“We need to give them everything they need,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Mike McCaul, one of Ukraine’s most vocal supporters in the fractious House GOP conference, told The Dispatch Thursday. “If this administration is not going to give it to them, then I submitted that we write it into our appropriations.” 

Such a plan would require funding the government—an increasingly unlikely prospect amid a dysfunctional House Republican caucus and with only a week before a September 30 deadline. Lawmakers could also include Ukraine funding in a continuing resolution to keep the lights on temporarily, but some hardline members of the GOP conference have vowed not to pass any CR, much less one that includes aid to Ukraine—and Zelensky’s visit didn’t seem to change their minds. “He’s a good salesman,” Rep. Ralph Norman of South Carolina, a member of the House Freedom Caucus, told The Dispatch. “He’s not going to sway me, but he’s a good salesman.” 

McCaul was nevertheless bullish about the chances of passing the $24 billion in supplemental aid to Ukraine to fund its fight through at least the end of the calendar year. “We’ve got a majority of the majority,” he told The Dispatch, a figure that would be enough to pass the measure with Democratic support.

McCaul may ultimately be right about the likelihood of more aid. But Congress’ messy appropriations impasse and some Republicans’ open hostility toward Zelensky’s visit may not leave the Ukrainian leader feeling optimistic about the quick trip. “In my opinion, he should get back on his plane and go home,” Rep. Cory Mills, a GOP budget hardliner, told The Dispatch. “There’s not enough money right now for America. We’re certainly not looking to dole out money to Ukraine.”

Worth Your Time 

  • Atlantic Editor-in-Chief Jeffrey Goldberg wrote a revealing profile of Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley and his role during the Trump administration. Goldberg interviewed not only Milley but other high-ranking administration officials, including former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. “‘Mark Milley had to contain the impulses of people who wanted to use the United States military in very dangerous ways,’ Kelly told me,” Goldberg writes. “‘Mark had a very, very difficult reality to deal with in his first two years as chairman, and he served honorably and well. The president couldn’t fathom people who served their nation honorably.’ Kelly, along with other former administration officials, has argued that Trump has a contemptuous view of the military and that this contempt made it extraordinarily difficult to explain to Trump such concepts as honor, sacrifice, and duty.” Goldberg details one telling example: “At his welcome ceremony at Joint Base Myer–Henderson Hall, across the Potomac River from the capital, Milley gained an early, and disturbing, insight into Trump’s attitude toward soldiers. Milley had chosen a severely wounded Army captain, Luis Avila, to sing ‘God Bless America.’ Avila, who had completed five combat tours, had lost a leg in an IED attack in Afghanistan, and had suffered two heart attacks, two strokes, and brain damage as a result of his injuries. To Milley, and to four-star generals across the Army, Avila and his wife, Claudia, represented the heroism, sacrifice, and dignity of wounded soldiers. It had rained that day, and the ground was soft; at one point Avila’s wheelchair threatened to topple over. Milley’s wife, Holly­anne, ran to help Avila, as did Vice President Mike Pence. After Avila’s performance, Trump walked over to congratulate him, but then said to Milley, within earshot of several witnesses, ‘Why do you bring people like that here? No one wants to see that, the wounded.’ Never let Avila appear in public again, Trump told Milley.” 

Presented Without Comment

NBC News: “We are very dysfunctional right now,” Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn., said, adding that the failure proves that GOP leaders “obviously can’t count” votes, unlike Democrats. Referring to McCarthy’s predecessor, Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., he said, “Speaker Pelosi, love her or hate her, she put something out there and they’d rally around it.”

Also Presented Without Comment

Financial Times: F-35 fighter jets can only fly 55 percent of time, U.S. watchdog says

Toeing the Company Line

  • In the newsletters: Nick asks (🔒) if it’s time to cut bait on DeSantis as the best GOP candidate to defeat Trump and Scott explains (🔒) how the farm bill showcases what’s wrong with Washington.
  • On the podcasts: The Dispatch Politics crew takes over the DisPod to discuss the government shutdown fiasco, voter perceptions of Republican candidates, and senatorial attire.
  • On the site today: Charlotte details Zelensky’s visit and the state of Ukraine’s counteroffensive and Audrey Baker breaks down what it would actually mean to dismantle the Department of Education (as several GOP presidential candidates have proposed).

Let Us Know

What did you think of Congress’ welcome for Zelensky? What message does it send to allies and enemies alike?

Mary Trimble is the editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, she interned at The Dispatch, in the political archives at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), and at Voice of America, where she produced content for their French-language service to Africa. When not helping write The Morning Dispatch, she is probably watching classic movies, going on weekend road trips, or enjoying live music with friends.

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.