The “Putin wing” of the Republican Party is gaining traction in the House, endangering the $40 billion in aid the Biden administration has requested for Ukraine. The Senate intends to tie the aid to a continuing resolution to keep the government open after funding runs out on Oct. 1, but the malfunctioning House is making it unlikely that will happen.
The arguments made by those Putin Republicans—who are, not coincidentally, also Trump Republicans—are based on lies, like most of what the modern-day GOP advocates. One of those arguments is being parroted by Missouri’s Josh Hawley, one of just a few Senate Republicans who is standing with Russia against Ukraine. He argues that helping Ukraine hampers the U.S.’s ability to combat China.
“I just I think they’ve not come to grips with the fact that China is truly a pure competitor to us,” Hawley told the Kansas City Star, referring to the Biden administration and Ukraine-backers in Congress. “They are not like anything we’ve seen since the fall of the Soviet Union. And, really, they’re not even like the Soviet Union in the last 20 years that it existed. I mean, their economy is bigger, their military is bigger, their growth potential is greater.”
That China straw man was debunked by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, one of the staunchest defenders of Ukraine in the GOP, if not the Senate. “[T]he patina of hawkishness on China is too often just a mask for isolationism,” McConnell said on the floor this week. “If critics of U.S. support for Ukraine disparage the principle that we should oppose adversaries who invade and destroy western-aligned neighbors, how credible is their commitment to defend Taiwan or other vulnerable allies?”
“America’s two most powerful adversaries have struck up a ‘friendship without limits’. If we fail to help Ukraine stop Russia in its tracks, there is every reason to believe Russia and China will both be emboldened,” McConnell continued. “Our closest allies and partners in Asia … understand this fundamental reality. … If the United States proves we cannot be trusted to back our allies in Europe, why on Earth should our allies in Asia expect different treatment in the face of Chinese aggression?”
Another argument from the “America First” Putinists is that aid to Ukraine is taking U.S. taxpayer’s money away from Americans. That’s the constant refrain from Georgia Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. “Ukraine is not the 51st state of the United States,” she said this spring. “We’re $31 trillion in debt. We’re not defending our own border. We’re ignoring our own people’s problems.”
That’s an argument that Republicans say resonates with their voters, who are indeed turning against sustaining Ukraine aid. That’s even while Republicans—particularly in the House—are hellbent on trashing the economy, flirting with a debt limit default and government shutdowns. Republican lawmakers are telling their constituents that the Biden administration has chosen Ukraine over them, even while they are trying to force draconian domestic spending cuts that will impose real economic hurt on working families.
The far-right Republicans are also pushing the argument that Ukraine is becoming a “forever war,” like the war in Afghanistan. Rep. Brian Mast of Florida is one of them. “I can support something, but I can’t support nothing. That’s how you get what happened in Afghanistan,” said Mast, who served in that war, and lost both of his legs. There are no U.S, military personnel on the ground in Ukraine, which is just one big difference.
The administration is responding to criticisms from the Putinist Republicans and trying to shore up support. That includes a newly appointed Pentagon team that will monitor and oversee how U.S. aid is being directed in Ukraine. The inspector general for the Pentagon and State Department and US AID briefed GOP senators this week, at McConnell’s request, on current oversight efforts.
Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy will be part of the lobbying effort to shore up support for this aid package. He will come to Washington next week to personally meet with President Biden and members of Congress.
Beyond the immediate effort to pass this package, Biden, Democrats, and the non-Putin Republicans in Congress need to develop a counterargument to what the isolationist, far-right faction is spouting. The American people must be convinced that fighting authoritarianism is essential, and that this fight is much bigger than just Ukraine.
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