September 22, 2023 | Reading Time: 3 minutes

Why McCarthy denied Zelensky’s request to address the Congress

Ukraine has become a stand-in for the larger fight for the White House.

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House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a Republican, denied this week a request by Ukraine’s president to address a joint session of the United States Congress. Volodymyr Zelensky hoped to persuade lawmakers to continue funding his country’s ongoing war against Russian invaders. 

But McCarthy said Zelensky could not repeat last year’s success because of “what we’re in the middle of,” the Post reported. McCarthy was referring to chaos in the House. GOP hardliners are rejecting what’s called a “continuing resolution.” It would keep the government running according to current spending levels. If the House Republicans don’t find unity by month’s end, the government could shut down.

But there’s more going on than a time crunch. By refusing Zelensky’s request, McCarthy is caving to the most extreme members of his conference. They want to end US support of Ukraine’s war against Russia. Their reasons are various and sundry, but they boil down to a confluence of conspiracy theories whose origins are the Kremlin. 

McCarthy is personally supportive of Ukraine, according to reports. But this week he caved nonetheless to Republican Party Putinists. 

According to the rightwing view, Ukraine is not a democracy. It is a corrupt regime undeserving of aid. Moreover, it’s an enemy. Among other things, it colluded with Democrat Hillary Clinton in a scheme to undermine US sovereignty and defraud the American people in the 2016 election. The plan was thwarted by the victory of Donald Trump.

The rightwing view insists, moreover, that Donald Trump, as president, attempted to expose Ukraine’s corruption in 2019 when he demanded an investigation into then-former Vice President Joe Biden. Biden, according to this view, abused his office and corrupted US foreign policy in 2016 in order to enrich himself and his son, Hunter Biden. 

None of it is true. 

Not even a Republican-led Senate investigation could find evidence of wrongdoing by Biden. More importantly, a supplemental report released by that committee’s Democrats found that these allegations – “that Ukraine and not Russia interfered in the 2016 US presidential election, and that Hunter Biden’s connection with Ukrainian energy company Burisma influenced former Vice President Biden’s actions and US foreign policy” – were “rooted in Russian disinformation efforts.” 

“These types of theories were used by Russian intelligence to obscure their interference in the 2016 election, as well as by Republicans to defend President Trump during impeachment proceedings, despite having no basis in fact,” the supplemental report went on to conclude.

“These types of theories” are now at the heart of the new push by the GOP hardliners to impeach the president. They accuse Joe Biden of doing the very thing that Senate Republicans could find no evidence of him doing – of bending US foreign policy toward enriching his son. But evidence doesn’t matter to them any more than it mattered to Trump when he extorted Volodymyr Zelensky into his conspiracy. What mattered wasn’t facts. What mattered was character assassination.

With an impeachment inquiry in the offing, the House Republicans will pick up where Trump left off. He had hoped to smear Biden in advance of the 2020 election. They hope to smear him in advance of 2024. In each case, Russia was and is an accomplice as well as a beneficiary. If Trump defeats Biden, he will almost certainly suspend US support for Ukraine’s war. In effect, he will hand Ukraine over to Vladimir Putin.


During an interview this week on Fox, US Senator Rand Paul, of Kentucky, parroted Russian disinformation in order to justify voting against continuing support for Ukraine’s war against Russia. “They’ve canceled the elections … it isn’t a democracy. It’s a corrupt regime.” 

What he didn’t say was that Ukraine is under martial law, on account of the invasion by the Russians. What he also didn’t say is that Zelensky has requested America’s help in paying for the immense logistical challenge of holding elections in wartime. He asked Paul’s Senate colleague, Republican Lindsey Graham, for help. Graham demanded elections be held next year. According to Reuters, Zelensky agreed.

Rand Paul surely knows this. Yet he smeared Ukraine anyway. Why? 

Because Ukraine has become a stand-in for the larger fight over control of the White House, and because Russian disinformation continues to be a practical tool for achieving that goal. Rand Paul and other hardliners have become, as Liz Cheney put it, “Putin Republicans.” If sacrificing Ukrainian democracy is the price for power, so be it. McCarthy is personally supportive of Ukraine, according to reports. But this week he caved nonetheless to the Republican Party’s Putinists. 

Cheney, when she was in the Congress, co-chaired the investigation into the J6 insurrection. She added that “patriotic Americans in both parties who believe in the values of liberal democracy will make sure” that Republican Party Putinists end up “on the ash heap of history.” 

I trust she’s right, but the key is greater awareness of what’s going on. What began as a fight between Ukraine and Russia has been imported and internalized by the GOP in its fight against domestic enemies. If sacrificing their loyalty to America is the price for power, so be it.


John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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