President Biden is criticizing Republicans who are threatening to cut off aid to Ukraine if they win control of the House in next month’s midterm elections, arguing that they are displaying a fundamental misunderstanding of U.S. foreign policy.
“They said that if they win they’re not likely to fund, to continue to fund, Ukraine,” the president said at a political fundraiser in Philadelphia on Thursday night. “These guys don’t get it.”
“It’s a lot bigger than Ukraine,” he added. “It’s Eastern Europe. It’s NATO. It’s really serious, serious consequential outcomes. … They have no sense of American foreign policy.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who could become speaker in January, signaled earlier this week that the GOP is likely to oppose more aid to Ukraine in its war with Russia if it wins the House majority. The majority of congressional Republicans and Democrats have united in authorizing billions of dollars in U.S. military and humanitarian assistance to Kyiv as a geopolitical and moral stand against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression, but McCarthy indicated that that could change next year.
“I think people are gonna be sitting in a recession, and they’re not going to write a blank check to Ukraine,” he recently told Punchbowl News. “They just won’t do it.”
Biden said Thursday that Republicans do not understand the relationship between Ukraine and the United States as well as the ramifications worldwide if the United States abandons a key ally.
“These guys on the other team don’t get it,” he said. “They don’t get it that how America does is going to determine how the rest of the world does.”
“They look to us as a leader,” the president added. “They look to us … because they’re not as big or as powerful.” At a stop earlier in the day in Pittsburgh, Biden had told reporters he was “worried” about Republicans’ threats to cut off aid.
Biden’s comments came hours after the White House confirmed that Iranian troops are directly engaged on the ground in Crimea helping Russia with its drone attacks on Ukraine, a development that raises the stakes for the United States and Europe as it tries to stop Russian aggression.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters that Iran has sent a “relatively small number” of personnel to Crimea.
“Russian military personnel that are based in Crimea have been piloting Iranian UAVs, using them to conduct strikes across Ukraine, including strikes against Kyiv in just recent days,” Kirby said. “We assess that Iranian military personnel were on the ground in Crimea and assisted Russia in these operations. Russia has received dozens of UAVs so far and will likely continue to receive additional shipments in the future.”
The joint effort involving Russia and Iran puts pressure on Republicans who have been highly critical of Tehran and excoriated President Barack Obama for agreeing to a deal that imposed restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief — a negotiated pact with European allies that President Donald Trump abandoned when he took office.
Biden aides have reportedly expressed doubts privately that Republicans will follow through with cutting all aid to Ukraine. They believe McCarthy will back continued funding for Kyiv, at least temporarily, to avoid political blowback. According to the latest University of Maryland Critical Issues Poll, support for Ukraine remains high in the United States in part because of the perception that Ukraine is succeeding in its battle against Russia.
The United States has authorized upward of $60 billion in aid to Ukraine, with more than $18.2 billion in security assistance given since January 2021. The Senate voted to finalize more than $40 billion in new military and humanitarian assistance in May, with Republicans being the only lawmakers voting against that package — the largest investment in Ukraine thus far.
Eleven Republican senators and 57 House GOP members opposed the legislation, arguing that more needs to be done to account for how the money is spent and to trace weapons and equipment sent to the battlefield.
Although most of the congressional leadership, notably Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), has been steadfast in support for Ukraine, voters in several states in January could send Republicans to Washington who are eager to oppose aid. The number of those wary of foreign aid and adherents of former president Donald Trump’s “America First” agenda is expected to grow in the next Congress.
McConnell, in a statement Friday, sought to push back on the growing isolationist view in the GOP, insisting that if Republicans win the majority in the Senate next month, they will be steadfast in their support of Ukraine. He also alluded to Iran and its role.
“A Republican majority in the Senate will focus its oversight on ensuring timely delivery of needed weapons and greater allied assistance to Ukraine, rebuilding and modernizing our military capabilities, standing up to terrorist states like Iran, and shoring up our defenses in Asia to deter Chinese aggression,” McConnell said.
In an appearance this week in Washington, former vice president Mike Pence called out the increasing isolationism in the GOP, assailing “Putin apologists” reluctant to stand up to Russia. He did not mention McCarthy or any other GOP lawmaker by name.
“Now, I know there is a rising chorus in our party, including some new voices to our movement, who would have us disengaged with the wider world,” Pence told the conservative Heritage Foundation.
“But appeasement has never worked, ever, in history. And now more than ever, we need a conservative movement committed to America’s role as leader of the free world and as a vanguard of American values.”
“As Russia continues its unconscionable war of aggression to Ukraine, I believe that conservatives must make it clear that Putin must stop and Putin will pay,” he added. “There can be no room in the conservative movement for apologists to Putin. There is only room in this movement for champions of freedom.”