There are 46 Republicans in the Senate today who in 2020 voted against convicting Donald Trump for withholding military aid from Ukraine in an attempt to get President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to dig up or manufacture dirt against a political opponent Trump feared. (Fifty-two Republican senators voted to acquit Trump, but six are no longer in the Senate.) The specifics here are important as we consider how those Republicans are responding to the Russian invasion of Ukraine—and how they are characterizing President Joe Biden’s response.
During a 2019 phone call, Zelenskyy said, “We are ready to continue to cooperate for the next steps specifically we are almost. ready to buy more Javelins from the United States for defense purposes.” Javelins are an anti-tank weapon and have been essential in Ukraine’s defense against Russia. All you really need to know about Trump’s response is that it began, “I would like you to do us a favor though ...”
Trump froze $400 million in military aid to Ukraine as he made his extortion attempt, only unfreezing the aid months later after a whistleblower complaint about it. That frozen aid, coupled with his “I would like you to do us a favor, though,” as a direct response to Zelenskyy’s ask for more Javelins were at the center of Trump’s first impeachment, on which Mitt Romney was the only Republican senator to vote guilty.
Romney voted guilty, and Sens. Bill Hagerty of Tennessee, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, Roger Marshall of Kansas, and Tommy Tuberville of Alabama were not in the Senate at the time. Every other Republican in the Senate—along with all 195 Republicans who voted in the House—voted against holding Trump responsible. (And Hagerty, Lummis, Marshall, and Tuberville absolutely would have voted not guilty given the chance.)
Trump has praised Vladimir Putin as Russia invaded Ukraine, and insisted that the invasion would not have happened if he had been in office. Trump is now claiming credit for NATO’s strength (after he threatened to pull the U.S. out of NATO) and for U.S. military aid to Ukraine, all part of his campaign to insist that this would not be happening if he were in the White House. In reality, what Putin would or wouldn’t be doing if Trump was in the White House is a mystery, but what we absolutely know is that if Putin invaded Ukraine, a Trump-led United States would not be taking a leading role in a major international diplomatic response.
Republicans, meanwhile, have largely either dodged answering whether they’re with him on his view of Putin or have tacitly supported Trump’s stance.
The Republican talking points are much more focused on blaming Biden than on blaming Putin. “Vladimir Putin’s decision to launch a renewed invasion of Ukraine is reprehensible,” House Republican leaders said in a group statement last week, before moving directly to their real interest. “Sadly, President Biden consistently chose appeasement and his tough talk on Russia was never followed by strong action.” These are people who literally voted against impeaching Donald Trump for withholding military aid to try to create a scandal that would harm Biden’s chances in 2020. Many House Republicans followed their leaders in blaming Biden more than they blamed Putin, and the same is true in the Senate.
And no wonder. Once Trump got Republicans to back him in attempting to extort elections help from Ukraine, where wouldn’t they go with him?