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McCarthy vows to support Ukraine, urges Russian exit

by Compiled by Democrat-Gazette staff from wire reports | May 2, 2023 at 5:16 a.m.
U.S. Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy addresses lawmakers during a session of the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem, Monday, May 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

WASHINGTON -- House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Monday said Russia must pull out of Ukraine, blistering Russia's "killing of the children" and distancing himself from some in his Republican Party who oppose additional major U.S. aid to Ukraine to stave off the Russian invasion.

In Israel on his first trip abroad as speaker, McCarthy emphatically stressed his support for Ukraine and rejected a suggestion that he does not support sending military and financial aid to Kyiv. At a news conference, he also 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," McCarthy told the Russian reporter, adding, "You should pull out."

He said, "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 heard a response from Biden about negotiations over the U.S. debt ceiling, which are tense as deadlines loom for action to prevent big economic trouble.

"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 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 that 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 another 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.

Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, 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 news conference, McCarthy 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."


The White House said Monday that it now estimates that just since December, Russia has suffered 100,000 casualties, including more than 20,000 killed, as Ukraine has rebuffed a heavy assault by Russian forces in eastern Ukraine.

In what has become a grinding war of attrition, the fiercest battles have been in the eastern Donetsk region, where Russia is struggling to encircle the city of Bakhmut in the face of dogged Ukrainian defense.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the U.S. estimate is based on newly declassified American intelligence. He did not detail how the intelligence community derived the number.

Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in November that Russia had suffered well over 100,000 killed or wounded in the first eight months of the war. The new figures suggest that Russian losses have dramatically accelerated in recent months.

Troops from Russia's Wagner mercenary group and other forces are fighting Ukrainian troops house-to-house to try to gain control of what has become known as the "road of life" -- the last remaining road west still in Ukrainian hands, which makes it critical for supplies and fresh troops. Both sides have cited gains in recent days.

Kirby said nearly half those killed since December are Wagner forces, many of them convicts who were released from prison to join Russia's fight. He said the Wagner forces were "thrown into combat and without sufficient ... combat training, combat leadership or any sense of organizational command and control."

The White House has repeatedly sought to highlight the cost -- both human and weaponry -- to Russia of Bakhmut, which it argues has limited strategic importance to the overall trajectory of the war. Some analysts, however, note that taking control of Bakhmut could be helpful to Russian efforts to advance on the larger cities of Kramatorsk and Sloviansk in the Donetsk region.

Kirby said the Russian casualty count for "this little town of Bakhmut" was in line with some of the fiercest periods of fighting during World War II, including the Battle of the Bulge, the last major German offensive campaign on the Western Front, and the Guadalcanal campaign, the first major Allied offensive against Japan.

"It's three times the number of killed in action that the United States faced on the Guadalcanal campaign in World War II and that was over the course of five months," Kirby said.

Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi, the head of Ukrainian ground forces, said Russia continued to exert "maximum effort" to take Bakhmut but that it so far had failed.

"In some parts of the city, the enemy was counterattacked by our units and left some positions," he said.

Kirby declined to say how many Ukrainian troops have been killed or wounded in the fighting. Milley said in November that Ukrainian casualties were probably also about 100,000.

Information for this article was contributed by Lisa Mascaro, Aamer Madhani, Zeke Miller and Lolita C. Baldor of The Associated Press.

  photo  U.S. Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy addresses lawmakers during a session of the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem, Monday, May 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

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