The bipartisan consensus to financially support Ukraine’s fight against Russia is starting to fracture on Capitol Hill, where Trump-aligned, Republicans criticize Biden for funding foreign aid while ignoring domestic issues.
Eleven Republican senators voted Monday night against a procedural step to advance the supplemental funding bill that would give Ukraine an additional $40 billion in military, economic, and humanitarian aid. The procedural vote passed 81-11. The group of mostly Trump-aligned senators cited several reasons for their votes, including a lack of investment in domestic priorities, insufficient support from Europe, a price tag that is too high, and a lack of oversight.
“You have the wing of the Republican party that’s very America first and they’re starting to question why are we sending all this money abroad when my constituents are suffering here at home,” said Elizabeth Hoffman, the director of congressional and government affairs at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “At the end of the day, all those Republicans know this vote is going to pass, so it’s a vote they can take to look good for reelection that won’t sink the bill.”
In March, Congress approved $13.6 billion in Ukraine aid at the same time they approved the $1.5 trillion omnibus spending bill for fiscal year 2022. Last month, President Joe Biden announced that his administration had exhausted that funding and asked Congress to pass a second supplemental funding bill to provide $33 billion for arming Ukrainian troops, replenishing American stockpiles, and helping the Ukrainian economy. Last week, Congress surpassed Biden’s request with a $40 billion supplemental bill, which passed the House, 368-57, last week, and is expected to get a final vote in the Senate on Thursday.
The 11 senators who voted against cloture on the bill are: Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, John Boozman of Arkansas, Mike Braun of Indiana, Mike Crapo of Idaho, Bill Hagerty of Tennessee, Josh Hawley of Missouri, Mike Lee of Utah, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, Roger Marshall of Kansas, Rand Paul of Kentucky, and Tommy Tuberville of Alabama.
Most of the Republican senators who voted no had their colleague from their home state support the bill. In Arkansas, for example, Boozman voted no while Republican Sen. Tom Cotton voted yes. A lawmaker’s vote also did not seem to be tied to whether they are facing an election in the fall. Most of the Republicans voting no, however, have supported former President Donald Trump.
“The Democrats are sending another $40 billion to Ukraine, yet America’s parents are struggling to even feed their children,” Trump said in a statement on Friday. “America First!”
Many of the senators, including Hagerty, echoed the former president, criticizing the administration for wanting to send so much money abroad as Americans face a range of issues at home, including high gas prices, inflation, and supply-chain shortages.
“This spending in support of Ukraine is coming at a time when our border is being overrun by illegal crossers, fentanyl is poisoning our communities, and inflation and supply issues are still rattling every American home,” Marshall said in a statement Tuesday.
Though there are legitimate questions to be asked, such as how much money Ukraine really needs or what safeguards should be in place to make sure the funding isn’t misused, it’s unfair to argue that America should not help abroad because of problems at home, said Bradley Bowman, senior director of the Center on Military and Political Power at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
“It’s such an easy argument to say, ‘We don’t have baby formula on the shelves, so we shouldn’t help Ukraine.’ It plays so well in town halls and looks so good in a tweet,” Bowman said. “America is rich enough and capable enough to be able to do the right thing on foreign policy and also address baby-formula issues….It’s the oldest political talking point in the book to argue we have a problem at home so can’t do the thing abroad.”
Hawley said giving aid to Ukraine is “not in America’s interests,” because it “neglects priorities at home,” such as security at the southern border, and “allows Europe to freeload.” But Bowman said Hawley, a vocal China hawk, should think more about what signal withdrawing American support from Ukraine now would send to Beijing if it considers invading Taiwan.
“It might leave them with the conclusion that if push comes to shove, America will back down…if it starts to get a little expensive,” he said. “I encourage those looking at this to not just consider the stakes in Ukraine and Europe…but to consider the lessons Beijing, Tehran, and Pyongyang will learn if we don’t put our money where our mouth is when it comes to Kyiv.”
Republicans also alleged that European allies were shirking their responsibilities and letting America do the brunt of the work to fight a war an ocean away.
“I support helping Ukraine expel the Russian invasion, but as inflation, gas prices, and shortages wallop Americans here at home I can’t support $40 billion of new spending unless it’s offset with cuts or taken from already authorized funds, especially when the European Union isn’t matching what we’re doing to end this conflict in their own backyard,” Braun, said. A spokesperson for the senator added that he will also vote against final passage of the bill on Thursday.
Some of the Republicans who voted no took issue with the amount of money and how it is being spent regardless of issues at home.
“I am fully in support of Ukraine and its efforts to push back on Russian aggression. I am, however, concerned about this particular request,” Lummis said in a statement. “President Biden requested $33 billion, yet we are voting on a $40 billion package. It’s important to give Ukraine the support they need, but we also need to be pragmatic about the amount of money we are spending.”
Lee, who voiced similar objections to the bill, introduced an amendment on Monday that would offset the Ukrainian aid with money intended for coronavirus relief to not add to the national debt.
Paul was the first outspoken critic of the aid bill, stalling the proposal last week by calling for the establishment of an inspector general to ensure taxpayer dollars are being spent appropriately, a sentiment that Tuberville echoed in explaining his vote on Monday.
“The federal government can’t keep spending money without accountability or oversight. I support military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine, and I continue to support their fight to defend their freedom,” said Tuberville.
Boozman also said he could not support sending additional aid to Ukraine without a long-term strategy for American involvement in the war.
“The Biden administration should offer a comprehensive plan with clear objectives and assurances that our aid and support is targeted and effectively protecting America’s interests,” he said. “In light of President Biden’s disastrous policies on domestic and international fronts, the lack of oversight of U.S. taxpayer dollars, and his refusal to make American energy production a centerpiece of our response to Russia’s malign behavior, I can’t support this package.”
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