Once again House minority leader Kevin McCarthy is signaling that Republicans will be cutting off—or at least sharply reducing—military aid to Ukraine if voters hand his party control of Congress in the upcoming midterm elections.
"I think people are gonna be sitting in a recession and they're not going to write a blank check to Ukraine," McCarthy responded when asked about Ukraine's fortunes under a Republican-held Congress. "It's not a free blank check."
This caused an immediate uproar, and for obvious reasons: The notion that whether Putin's war of conquest in Ukraine will succeed or fail now hinges on whether Republicans win enough seats in Congress to cut off military aid, as Donald Trump himself tried to do with varying degrees of success during his own Putin-allied administration. This is terrifying to Europe, is a source of new hope for Russian leaders facing the possible full collapse of Russia as their vaunted Russian military continues to be reduced to metal shards at the hands of Ukrainian defenders, and is a concept that political reporters in this country still cannot quite wrap their minds around.
You'll note that McCarthy carefully worded the statement to evade any actual policy stance, as he tries to simultaneously seek support from the Jordan-Gaetz-Trump wing of the party and the members of Congress who hate that wing's guts. Equating current military aid to Ukraine to a "blank check," however, wasn’t something that could be ignored.
It also made things awkward for some of McCarthy's colleagues. Rep. Michael Waltz of Florida, a minority member of the House Armed Services Committee, tried to walk back McCarthy's line with some generic bleating about oversight, but he didn't deny that his party would try to cut the aid.
The awkward truth for political reporters is that there is substantial support in the Republican Party for cutting off aid to Ukraine and allowing Putin’s Russia its conquest, and that’s the caucus that McCarthy is catering to now in his continued attempts to cling to the party leadership. Republicans aren't bluffing, and the mere thought that Republicans might not be bluffing as its lawmakers straight-up promise to introduce a nationwide abortion ban, slash Social Security, and sabotage Ukrainian defense efforts will apparently never get through to thickheaded reporters who rely on sugarcoating the party’s stunning extremism for the sake of keeping access to the extremists.
On the contrary, Republicanism has increasingly worked to back Russian autocrat Putin over the interests of world democracies, these last six months, and promises to cut off Ukrainian aid under the banner of "America First" have now become commonplace. Last March, when Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene appeared at a white nationalist-organized event in which the crowd literally chanted their support for Putin, Rep. Adam Kinzinger wondered if it would be "a chance to burn out the cancer of the Republican Party—those that are, you know, Putin sympathetic." But Kinzinger also predicted that McCarthy wouldn't move against Greene because "she has power."
That dreamed-of purge was a pipe dream, and by May, 68 Republican members of the House and Senate were voting to oppose new Ukrainian aid.
It only got worse from there. "Ukraine aid faces tougher crowd if Republicans take over," announced a Politico headline by early September. "Americans can't afford to provide a blank checkbook to Ukraine when we have inflation, gas prices, supply chain crisis, all of the above, going on at home," a gutlessly anonymous House Republican told Politico.
Cut to just a few weeks back, and the Conservative Political Action Conference—the influential group that every Republican leader from Trump to Mitch McConnell to Kevin McCarthy falls over themselves to cater to—was tweeting images of the Russian flag as it seemingly congratulated Putin on "the annexation of 4 Ukrainian-occupied territories"—language that mirrored Russian government claims that Ukrainian land was not legitimately Ukraine's to begin with.
"When will Democrats put #AmericaFirst and end the gift-giving to Ukraine," the tweet added. That full embrace of Putin rhetoric from the influential anti-democratic organization shocked many, but was merely the continuation of the sly partnership between the Trump wing of the party and a Russian government that has sought to boost pro-Putin Republicans via propaganda and espionage. It’s not something Republican lawmakers can generally say aloud unless they hail from a particularly pro-treason part of the country. But the people whose conferences they attend aren’t just saying it, they’re screaming it.
McCarthy is clearly now signaling that he’ll be going along with whatever the pro-Putin wing of Republicanism wants of him. It’s not a surprise. He once talked a good game about maybe opposing Vladimir Putin's plans to rebuild the Soviet Union by invading and annexing Russia's once-soviet neighbors, back in the earliest days of the invasion, but that talk fizzled as his fellow House Republicans increasingly began to line up behind Donald Trump's own crooked condemnations of the Ukrainian government he extorted and his insistence that Putin's war of conquest was nothing the United States ought to stick its nose into.
Trump himself has increasingly been piping up with new demands that America stay out of Putin’s way and—given the seditionist sack of crap’s ever-present hints that he’ll be launching a new Republican bid for the presidency any day now—we can presume that McCarthy will continue to trim his rhetoric so that it matches Trump’s expected demands that Republicans support Putin’s invasion.
Kinzinger and other Republican Party outcasts should probably give up on the idea that Republican leaders specifically selected for their willingness to back everything from petty grifts to an anti-American coup will suddenly decide that allying with a kleptocratic tyrant is a bridge too far. There are no convictions at play here, only the gamesmanship of politicians willing to do almost anything to collect a few more votes. Right now, the “America First” crowd is more hostile to the Ukrainian government Donald Trump tried to extort than they are to Vladimir Putin’s campaign of child-stealing, mass-murdering genocide, so that is the policy House Republican leadership will pursue.
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