WASHINGTON -- House Speaker Kevin McCarthy emphatically stressed his support for military aid to Ukraine on Monday, blistering Russia's “killing of the children” and distancing himself from some in his party who oppose additional major U.S. aid to stave off the Russian invasion.
In Israel on his first trip abroad as speaker, McCarthy flatly rejected a suggestion at a news conference that he does not support sending military and financial aid to Ukraine -- and he amplified his positions on other issues back home, including his demand for debt limit negotiations with President Joe Biden.
“I vote for aid for Ukraine. I support aid for Ukraine,” McCarthy said, responding to a question from a Russian reporter. “I do not support what your country has done to Ukraine. I do not support your killing of the children, either."
“You should pull out,” McCarthy told the Russian reporter. “We will continue to support -- because the rest of the world sees it just as it is.”
McCarthy touched down in Jerusalem leading a bipartisan delegation of U.S. lawmakers, his first foray abroad as the new House speaker and the first to address the Israeli Knesset in 25 years.
Domestic politics followed his trip overseas, and the Republican speaker said he still has not yet heard a response from Democrat Biden about negotiations over the U.S. debt ceiling.
“The president still hasn't talked to me,” McCarthy said, quipping that he feels “a little like [Benjamin] Netanyahu,” referring to the Israeli prime minister who has yet to receive a call from the U.S. president.
“I’m looking forward to the president changing his mind and negotiating with us,” McCarthy said.
House Republicans last week put an opening offer on the table, passing a sweeping package that would raise the debt limit by $1.5 trillion to into 2024 in exchange for a long list of spending restrictions and other conservative policy priorities that Democrats oppose. Biden has said he would veto the bill if it should be approved by the House and Senate.
Biden has refused to engage in talks on the debt ceiling, saying it must be raised with no strings attached to prevent a potentially catastrophic default on the nation's already accrued bills.
McCarthy made it clear a so-called “clean” debt ceiling will not be possible with House Republicans.
“We will not pass a debt ceiling that just raises it without doing something about our debt,” McCarthy said.
The Republican leader, who was elected speaker in January after a tumultuous internal party battle, led the congressional delegation on a trip he has made many times before, often with Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the former Democratic leader, who was again at his side.
The trip came as Congress was soon to face again a request to send major aid to Ukraine. McCarthy will need to navigate Republican politics as the debate plays out, particularly from the Trump-aligned wing that has raised opposition to spending overseas to counter Russian President Vladimir Putin's Ukrainian aggression.
Early on as party leader, McCarthy had said there would be no “blank check” for Ukraine, but he has since insisted that as speaker he will back the U.S. effort against Russia even as he works to ensure oversight of American taxpayer money abroad.
Democratic former speaker Nancy Pelosi recently looked back on her own historic trip to Kyiv last year, at the outbreak of the war, and said Ukraine and democracy “must win.”
At home, McCarthy and Biden are both working -- but at odds -- to prevent a debt default if Congress fails to raise the debt limit, now $31 trillion, by this summer.
Answering questions at a press conference, he referenced the children's TV classic and quipped, “Schoolhouse Rock -- they never told you not to negotiate. They told you to work together.”
“We should sit down and solve this problem,” McCarthy said. “The debt is a big challenge for America. We’re going to have to come together to solve it."