Virginia Senator Mark Warner criticized the loss of aid for Ukraine amid the averted government shutdown. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
On Tuesday, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) wasn’t in a mood to celebrate the averted government shutdown. Noting that the resolution passed by the House and the Senate only funded the government for another 45 days, he told Fortune CEO Alan Murray that “the one thing where a pound of flesh was extracted was aid for Ukraine.”
Speaking onstage at Fortune‘s CEO Initiative conference in Washington, D.C., the Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee didn’t hold back. “Nothing could be worse timing or more stupid than cutting off aid for Ukraine at this moment in time.”
Indeed, absent in the legislation was continued financing for Ukraine’s ongoing war with Russia—something that has become a flashpoint both on Capitol Hill and among other stakeholders in the conflict. Elon Musk, whose Starlink satellites continue to provide wartime wi-fi support for Ukraine, has repeatedly criticized Ukraine’s request for aid on X, the social media platform that he owns.
Republicans hold a narrow majority in the House of Representatives, with Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) clinging to his position amid a challenge from the fringes of his party. This fragile balance resulted in a near-shutdown over the weekend, with the far-right Freedom Caucus members refusing to vote for a stopgap bill to continue funding the government.
While McCarthy agreed to a bipartisan effort to pass a continuing resolution over the weekend, the last-minute bill left out continued aid for Ukraine. The U.S. has sent tens of billions of dollars of funding since Russia’s invasion in February 2022.
Warner expressed optimism that a later bill would pledge more funding to Ukraine but decried how many of his colleagues are underplaying the threat of Russia while at the same time expressing fears over China’s growing power.
“If you don’t understand that Putin winning in Ukraine is a green light to Xi [Jinping], you’ve flunked geopolitics,” he said.
For Warner, the open question is whether the House will be able to regain stability, especially with Freedom Caucus member Matt Gaetz (R-Texas) pushing for a new Speaker. Warner demurred when asked by Murray whether Republicans should continue to back McCarthy, arguing that the chaos in the House will continue, regardless of who holds the top position.
“I can’t decide right now if we’re seeing a playout of the Hunger Games or the battle of the Kens from the Barbie movie,” he said, drawing a laugh from the crowd.
The future of work
Warner started his remarks on Tuesday by noting that when he first met with Murray in 2015, they spoke about his ideas around the future of work. “We still haven’t made much progress on any of those,” he joked.
Technology remains one of Warner’s top legislative priorities, especially as the Senate deliberates how to regulate A.I. From his leading role on the Select Committee on Intelligence, Warner has pushed the heads of A.I. companies to weigh the potential security threats posed by the technology. A serial founder and investor in technology firms before becoming a senator, Warner is one of the wealthiest members of Congress.
On Tuesday, Warner said that Congress is unlikely to pass any comprehensive regulation for the industry in the short term, observing the Senate’s recent failure to pass any legislation around consumer technology, describing its efforts to regulate social media as “pathetic.”
Still, he urged legislative action on a smaller scope that would address the two areas where he believes A.I. could threaten public confidence: elections and markets.
“That would at least put the guardrails in,” he said.