WASHINGTON — In a potential preview of a House of Representatives under the control of a Republican Party eager to stymie President Biden’s agenda, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., on Thursday introduced a measure that called on Congress to conduct an audit of U.S. assistance to Ukraine.
The resolution could subject potentially sensitive military information to intense partisan scrutiny. “We’re asking for everything to do with military, civilian and financial aid. We want it all,” Greene said at an afternoon news conference at the U.S. Capitol.
The White House recently requested another $38 billion in aid for Ukraine, which has spent the last year repelling an invasion by Russia, its much bigger and more powerful neighbor. Concerns about how long Washington can support the Ukrainian effort have become increasingly mainstream, but Greene’s proposal was well outside the routine discourse about America's role as a global peacekeeper.
“The question is, is Ukraine now the 51st state of the United States of America?” Greene said, comparing Washington’s support of Ukraine’s sovereignty to what she falsely described as an open-border policy at the U.S. border with Mexico, where thousands of migrants arrive each day to seek asylum.
“Eighty-two thousand Russians have invaded Ukraine,” she said, although the number is almost certainly much higher than that, given how costly Ukraine’s allies in the West have made the war for the Kremlin.
Delving at times into conspiracy theories about the doomed cryptocurrency exchange FTX, Greene and like-minded House colleagues heralded a combative, hard-edged new mood in Washington, where comity was already in short supply.
“Our priorities are all out of whack,” complained Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., in what could be regarded as a warning to any Republicans seeking to avoid charged battles over Ukraine, immigration, Jan. 6, the coronavirus and Hunter Biden. For some on the right, however, those battles are a priority.
Massie was one of several members of the right-wing Freedom Caucus to join Greene at her news conference, which came several hours after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced she was putting aside her leadership duties following last week’s midterm losses, which handed Republicans control of the lower chamber.
A fervent supporter of jailed Jan. 6 rioters, Greene has vowed to also hold hearings on how they were treated in pretrial detention. “That’s also something that is very important,” said the Georgia lawmaker. On Thursday, she also met with Kyle Rittenhouse, who became a hero of the right after killing two people during the civil unrest that engulfed Kenosha, Wis., in 2020. Rittenhouse, who was acquitted on murder charges last year, visited with Republicans on Thursday, while Democrats spent the day showering Pelosi with accolades.
Republicans were not especially shy about their plans for what they will do with control of the House. On Thursday morning, GOP Reps. James Comer of Kentucky and Jim Jordan of Ohio — both of whom are expected to play significant roles in the new Congress — announced an investigation into the financial dealings of Hunter Biden, whose struggles with substance use and questionable professional ethics have made him a favorite target of both legitimate inquiries and conspiracy theories.
“We want to know what the Biden administration is trying to hide from the American people,” Comer said at a news conference.
Hours later, it was the same scene in the same basement auditorium in the Capitol complex, now with Greene announcing her own investigations — with many more to come.
Having watched Democrats impeach former President Donald Trump twice, many Republican lawmakers are yearning to return Biden the favor. They want to subpoena Dr. Anthony Fauci, whom they suspect of knowing more than he has revealed about the origins of the coronavirus; to investigate last year’s chaotic withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan; and to question federal law enforcement about the August raid at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s residence and golf club in Florida.
“Real accountability is coming,” Rep. Kevin McCarthy, whom Republicans have nominated to be the next House speaker, wrote on Twitter of Comer and Jordan’s press conference. Some worry that McCarthy, who has long craved the speakership, made too many concessions to his party’s right flank to secure the necessary votes.
By empowering — and emboldening — the likes of Greene and Jordan, two of the more renegade Republicans on Capitol Hill, McCarthy could inadvertently lend credence to Democratic arguments that the GOP is beholden to extremists uninterested in governing.
The Democratic National Committee is already reprising the argument Biden used during the midterms, when his party staved off disaster by casting the GOP as helpless against the ideological pull of Trump and his MAGA supporters.
“You can count on House Republicans to remind Americans every day just how extreme their party is,” said a DNC memo published Thursday, singling out Greene as a figure “expected to have a front and center role in the Republican caucus.”
Mainstream conservatives are hoping that doesn’t turn out to be the case, though her unusually prominent role in brokering McCarthy’s nomination seems to suggest the prediction is indeed likely to come true.
“I don’t have to have a leadership position,” she told the New York Times in an October profile. “I think I already have one, without having one.”
A relentless culture warrior who was stripped of her committee assignments last year, Greene had previously proposed to fire Fauci, the president’s top pandemic adviser at the time. She also filed articles of impeachment against Biden. In each case her measure stood little chance of even cursory consideration, let alone a vote. But she also earned favorable press from conservative media and raised millions of dollars.
Thursday’s filing was as a resolution of inquiry, which essentially fast-tracks a request for information made by Congress. The use of such resolutions was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic, but now that the procedure is permitted again, Republicans hope to use it to force the Biden administration to reveal information about its pandemic response, among other topics.
“This is a tool to bring oversight and accountability to this administration. We have a list of inquiries we want answered,” Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., told Bloomberg Law in September. If Democrats vote against the inquiries — as they inevitably will in most cases — Republicans can argue that they are trying to hide secrets about Ukraine, the origins of the coronavirus or Hunter Biden’s business activities.
Although congressional investigations were once a bipartisan affair, the impeachment of President Bill Clinton in the late 1990s marked a new era of oversight with a sharply political edge.
Throughout 2015, Republicans used hearings about the murder of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya, to exact a toll on Hillary Clinton, who was secretary of state at the time of the attacks and was preparing for a presidential run, which she launched while the inquiry continued. “Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable,” McCarthy crowed on Fox News in 2015, suggesting that the hearings were damaging her popularity with voters. “Her numbers are dropping.”
Democrats conducted lengthy investigations of Trump, culminating with a committee on the Jan. 6 attack. Despite the presence of two anti-Trump Republicans on the committee, the vast majority of the GOP dismissed the panel’s work as illegitimate.
Now, it is the Republicans’ turn, with Hunter Biden and Ukraine as the first targets of their investigatory zeal. Domestic politics aside, invigorated efforts to halt or frustrate funding for Ukraine could signal to the Kremlin that American support is waning. Last month, House progressives were forced to withdraw a letter pressing the White House to seek a negotiated peace, with many critics calling the request an appeasement of the Kremlin.
The right wing of the GOP was never thrilled about Ukraine aid and is becoming increasingly vocal about its frustrations. “The days of endless cash and military matériel to Ukraine are numbered,” vowed Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla. That view is not widely shared by mainstream Republicans; Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, who is expected to chair the House Foreign Affairs Committee in January, supports continued U.S. assistance. Even if Greene files another resolution with him in charge, it will likely fail under his direction.
During her news conference, Greene also courted new conspiracy theories involving Sam Bankman-Fried, the disgraced founder of the FTX cryptocurrency exchange. A major Democratic donor, Bankman-Fried had accumulated enormous influence in Washington.
Some right-wing figures on the internet have baselessly charged that some U.S. aid to Ukraine was being laundered back, via FTX, into Democratic coffers. Greene reiterated those accusations on Thursday.
“We’re just finding out about the situation with FTX and the cryptocurrency,” she said, wondering if foreign assistance had been routed by Bankman-Fried’s company into “Democrat donors’ pockets.”
It had not, says Uriel Epshtein, a former technology executive who now leads the Renew Democracy Initiative, which works on Ukraine relief efforts.
“This is absolute nonsense,” he told Yahoo news in an email. “It has more in common with the plot of a B movie than it does reality.”