Last month, President Joe Biden signed a $40 billion aid package for Ukraine. Tracing the path from Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in February to the bill’s adoption illustrates the contemporary GOP, the onetime “party of national security.”
As Moscow finds itself bogged down in Ukraine—making progress in the east but having abandoned its plans for a siege of Kyiv—many Republicans have adjusted their position accordingly. Before the Ukraine invasion, the GOP indulged Russia, even vociferously defending Donald Trump’s 2020 extortion phone call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, which established the grounds for impeachment.
Now, most of the GOP has miraculously transformed, many criticizing Biden as weak, or an appeaser. Like the change in location of a subatomic particle according to the laws of quantum physics, Republican politicians shifted instantaneously from one position to the other without any motion between the two having been detected by even the most sensitive instruments known to science.
Not all of them, however. What is striking is that each successive Ukraine vote resulted in fewer Republicans supporting the embattled nation. In the first vote on March 2, the House passed a resolution that supported sanctions on Russia, declared Ukraine’s sovereignty over Crimea, the Donbas, and other areas occupied by Russia, promoted military aid, and backed Ukrainian forces. Only three Republicans opposed the measure, while all Democrats supported it.
The next vote, on March 9, suspended oil and gas imports from Russia. This time, 15 Republicans voted against the bill.
The most important legislation was the $40 billion aid measure. Declarations of solidarity are one thing; but aid to Ukraine is the benchmark of commitment. The House passed the bill by a large majority, but every vote against it—57—was Republican.
Why did the “No” votes of House Republicans steadily increase? The current GOP has become more extreme on almost every issue. COVID-19 went from a purely medical concern in February 2020 to public health officials receiving death threats only months later. Small wonder that Republicans have shifted votes against Ukraine when Tucker Carlson, the most popular right-wing cable influencer, has been issuing regular pro-Putin jeremiads.
The action moved to the Senate, where Senator Rand Paul began filibustering. What is surprising is that Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer didn’t invoke cloture the instant Paul objected. The required time under Senate rules before a vote could be called might force the Senate to do business on Friday and the weekend and inconvenience senators.
Republican leader Mitch McConnell instead flew to Kyiv with three other GOP senators, Susan Collins, John Barrasso, and John Cornyn. There were efforts by some Beltway media to portray their Ukrainian mission as McConnell’s Churchill Moment. But it was essentially a PR stunt to be seen with Zelensky, who likely faced more urgent matters. Ukraine needed hardware, not McConnell’s blandishments. The delay threatened to breach the May 20 deadline when Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said war materiel in the pipeline would begin to dry up.
Paul’s objections on fiscal grounds were largely a smokescreen. The amount appropriated was in the same ballpark as the bailout received by farmers due to Trump’s disastrous tariff policy against China. That farm aid did not receive the same scrutiny from a self-styled libertarian like Paul. Could it have been that Trump’s exercise in protectionism and Keynesian economics (both anathema to Paul) lopsidedly benefited Republican constituents?
As congressional Republicans rend their garments over gas prices and baby formula, it’s worth asking: Would global supply bottlenecks miraculously ease if Russia defeated Ukraine, and Moldova, Poland, and the Baltics were next on the Kremlin’s menu? Would Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia open the oil spigot? In all likelihood, commodities prices would continue to soar, accompanied by a massive sell-off on the world’s stock exchanges.
The Senate eventually brought Ukraine aid to a vote, with 11 Republicans voting no. The bill was rushed to South Korea for Biden to sign on his Asian tour just as the deadline expired.
Senator Josh Hawley, one of the Republicans voting no, said that while he might be “an outlier,” his position reflects the GOP base. He could be right. Hawley waxed optimistic, adding “But hopefully we’ll have some more folks join me after November.” This is a distinct possibility, given that Ohio’s Republican nominee for the Senate is J. D. Vance, who has said, “I don’t really care what happens to Ukraine,” while suggesting that U.S. elites oppose Russia because it is against transgender rights.
Given the radicalization of the Republican Party, it is possible that if the war drags on past the midterm elections, opposing Ukraine aid could become the dominant GOP position. I suggested as much three months ago, and the vote tallies seem to be headed in that direction.
The mainstream media has had no dearth of commentary on Paul’s cynicism. But it has assiduously avoided concluding what it augurs—an ominous sign for American democracy. Too many in the GOP see Putin and his United Russia Party as something to emulate: a pseudo-populist dictator running a one-party state via rigged elections, a controlled press, and a cowed opposition—all of it amid a systematic cultivation of falsehood.