A consistent set of foot-dragging talking points on Ukraine has been percolating through the Republican infoscape—and leaking into the general media environment recently, whether from governors or your average Joe. The first to let loose the signal of capitulation was none other than the current speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy, who, in a drape-measuring interview with Punchbowl News back in October said, “I think people are gonna be sitting in a recession and they’re not going to write a blank check to Ukraine. They just won’t do it.” He went on to whine about borders and fentanyl, in a now common pivot-to-non-sequitur for the GOP.
And now with Republicans in control of the House, legislation to end military aid to Ukraine has indeed been introduced by none other than Matt Gaetz, sponsored by his usual clown car of troglodyte buddies. This is probably not an imminent threat, but nor is it an idle one: In May of last year, 57 House Republicans were already willing to vote against a bill providing assistance for Ukraine.
But before they whip their base into a frothing anti-Ukrainian mood that must be appeased, Republicans might want to spare a thought for all their constituents. Who, you know, elect them. Because as it turns out, having roots in Ukraine and Eastern Europe is common throughout most of the country.
In fact, we’ve calculated the number of people who say they have a Ukrainian background for every congressional district in the nation, shown in the map above. Six districts are home to more than than 10,000 residents of Ukrainian extraction: California’s 6th, New York’s 8th and 11th, Ohio’s 7th, Pennsylvania’s 1st, and Washington’s 9th. Notably, these are not all solid blue districts, as half of them are currently represented by Republicans—New York’s 11th, Ohio’s 7th, and Pennsylvania’s 1st. And plenty more Republicans represent districts in the next tier, which each have thousands of residents with Ukrainian heritage.
There are many Republicans who would cynically ignore the needs of large numbers of their constituents in order to appease their primary voters, but Ukrainians are not the only ones threatened by Russia’s aggression. All of Eastern Europe is affected, and when you look at Americans with Eastern European ancestry, you’re now talking election-shifting margins—and not just in tight races. These are numbers that could bring an off-the-radar race into competition.
The districts with the greatest concentrations of Eastern European ancestry are mostly in the Midwest and New York, where Republicans have made gains of late, as well as other portions of the Northeast. Indeed, all four of the districts Republicans won in New York last fall that previously went for Joe Biden have more than 3,000 Ukrainians and 10-20% who identify as having Eastern European backgrounds. And competitive Republican-held districts with Eastern European populations greater than 10% can be found across the country, from Florida to Arizona to Nebraska.
When your family comes from Eastern Europe, it strikes the heart to see the names of cities you’ve heard of all your life in war reports, or videos of refugees from the very train station your grandfather left more than 100 years ago in a town whose spelling was a mystery to you for most of your life. As Republicans in Congress threaten to draw down support for Ukraine, they would do well to remember the large number of Ukrainian Americans, and Eastern Europeans in general, who live in their districts.
President Biden’s surprise visit to Kyiv, Ukraine, on Presidents’ Day was an important moment in American foreign policy, and also an equally important moment in public relations for the Democratic Party. It showed America’s support for a free and independent Ukraine, but not from an imperialistic position. Republicans haven’t had a coherent foreign policy platform besides U.S. imperialism, and now find themselves pulled in various directions as potential conservative presidential candidates try to figure out what exactly they want to pretend to believe in.