Republican gains in Congress will 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 the installation of key US ambassadors, and lead to the public questioning of officials who participated in the US withdrawal from Afghanistan in the past. general.

Congress has more influence over domestic affairs than over foreign policy, thanks to the president’s extensive powers as commander in chief. But Democrats are preparing for a much more complex — and fearful — national security environment if Republicans control legislative calendars, committee chairs and purchasing power.

Even more worrying for the Biden administration is the possibility that Republicans will slow the flow of money and weapons into Ukraine that began before the invasion of Russia in February. California Representative Kevin McCarthy, the minority leader, said last month that the Republican-led House of Representatives would not be willing to approve “blank check” aid for Ukraine.

Congress has approved $60 billion in aid to Ukraine since the war began, without explicit conditions. But some Republicans, encouraged by prominent conservatives like Fox News host Tucker Carlson, are increasingly questioning the price of US aid to the country.

However, many conservatives are skeptical that McCarthy’s comments and those of some Republican candidates mean that the Republican-led House of Representatives will constrain US support.

Danielle Pletka, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a former Republican Senate foreign policy member, called McCarthy’s remark a “completely empty and psychedelic statement” and said she was not concerned about the party’s commitment to Ukraine’s defense.

Referring to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, the strongman who became a hero to many conservative supporters of former President Donald J. Trump, Ms. Plitka said.

The Senate’s Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, implicitly rebuked McCarthy by saying last month that the United States should do more to support Kyiv. But several of Ukraine’s Republican senators will retire 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 focus 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. This memo was released in June by Republicans in line to become chairs of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

Representative Mike McCaul of Texas and Senator Jim Risch of Idaho wrote that US assistance to Ukraine “will be neither effective nor politically sustainable without strong oversight and accountability mechanisms.” Both men say they continue to support Ukraine’s assistance.

Mr. McCall and Mr. Risch have been highly critical of the Biden administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. Both would likely summon Biden officials, including Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken, to attend public hearings.

Mr. McCaul wrote to Mr. Blinken in mid-October asking the State Department to retain all documents and correspondence that might “respond to a future congressional investigation, request, investigation, or subpoena.”

In an August statement marking the anniversary of the fall of Kabul, Mr. Risch complained that “we still do not have complete answers about how the Biden administration failed to see it coming and did not have an effective plan in place to evacuate American citizens and Afghan partners.”

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

Several Republicans called for Mr. Blinken’s resignation after the Kabul evacuation, and two House Republicans introduced a resolution calling for his impeachment. But Republicans say they do not expect such efforts to gain traction.

Mr. McCall takes a special interest in China and has expressed impatience with the pace of deliveries of US weapons purchased by Taiwan for its defense against a possible Chinese invasion. He also said he would insist on further tightening of export controls to deprive China of important US technology that it might use for military purposes.

The representative led a House Republican task force on China that released a report in 2020 calling for measures such as increased military spending, new sanctions to punish Chinese human rights abuses, and tougher measures to counter Chinese propaganda.

Republicans in both houses are keen to pressure the Biden administration on its Iran policy. 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 will bring Iran back to center stage in Washington,” said Mark Dubowitz, CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a hard-line think tank that advocates relentless pressure on the Iranian government.

“Republicans will introduce penal code after bill,” he said.

And Republican gains in Congress will further complicate Biden’s efforts to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which Trump abandoned.

International talks to restore the agreement have stalled for weeks, and Biden officials have expressed doubts that Tehran is willing to scale back its nuclear program again to ease sanctions.

But big Republican gains in the US Senate may make a surprise breakthrough even more difficult. Under a law passed by Congress in 2015, the House and Senate can vote to reject the nuclear deal with Tehran and block the president’s ability to lift sanctions on Iran’s economy previously imposed by Congress.

Making things even more difficult for Biden is the expected return as Israel’s prime minister to Benjamin Netanyahu, who has 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, criticizing Mr. Obama’s efforts to reach a nuclear deal with Iran.

Like many Republicans in Congress, Mr. Netanyahu has been highly critical of Mr. Biden’s efforts to negotiate with Iran and may once again work in a de facto alliance with them.

The Republican Senate could also slow the confirmation of Mr. Biden’s nominees for national security positions across the government. In particular, the administration is still waiting for the Senate to confirm more than thirty ambassadorial nominees, as well as other selections for middle and senior State Department positions. Among them are ambassadors to Russia, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, India, Nigeria and the United Arab Emirates.

Senate Democrats hope to confirm several of them before the end of the year. If they can’t, nominations expire and candidates must be renamed again at the start of the next convention.

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