Republicans expect to be asked about Ukraine at the Munich Security Conference

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Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (DRI) on Tuesday became unhappy with the idea of ​​leading a delegation to the upcoming Munich Security Conference because Congress has yet to approve additional funds to help by bringing back Ukraine’s war against Russia.

Whitehouse summed up his feelings in one word: “Crappy.”

By Thursday, however, the tide had turned and a bipartisan group of 67 senators voted to open debate on a $95 billion security measure, with nearly two-thirds of that directed at Ukraine. A final vote could come before the middle of the week, just because around 30 senators have the right to go to Europe.

The deal might, might fall apart in the Senate and its prospects in the increasingly nativist House are still up in the air, but the White House was all but resigned to resign after that vote.

“Maybe we’re less empty-handed, TBD,” he said.

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) did not commit on February 7 to vote on a funding package for Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan after a separate Israel bill failed. (Video: The Washington Post)

The annual security conference has long been an annual show of unity across the Atlantic, giving each party’s international team a chance to share their vision of US leadership.

Last year’s security conference saw record numbers of US lawmakers there show unity against Russian President Vladimir Putin, asking their European friends not to worry about those vocal Republicans who opposed extra money to Kyiv.

“I think too much attention has been given to very few people who seem not to be invested in the success of Ukraine,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky .) last February before going to Munich.

But these “few people” stepped up, and for the past four months they have rebuffed the efforts of the Biden administration and traditional security hawks in Congress to arm Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. refill.

Ukrainian front-line infantry units are reporting severe troop shortages

The outpouring of political support has all come from one side of the aisle.

In May 2022, 39 GOP senators joined 47 Democrats in voting for a $40 billion security and humanitarian aid package for Zelensky, with only 11 Republicans voting.

On Thursday, just 17 Senate Republicans, nearly a third of their caucus, voted with 50 members of the Democratic caucus to move forward with debate on the national security measure. On Friday, one more Republican voted to move the procedure to advance the bill.

Sen. Thom Tillis (R.N.C.), one of those who voted yes, warned that his fellow Republicans must remain strong in their support for Ukraine or their party will oppose capitulation to Putin.

Over the next few days the debate would end one way or another, Tillis said. “Quite a number [vote yes] to send it to the House, or Republicans who have the final message from the US Senate that there are not enough of us to support the aid of Ukraine.”

This Senate debate comes just after the European Union reached a unanimous agreement among its 27 member countries to inject $54 billion to maintain Ukraine’s government services, the to re-engage far-right critics in Congress who regularly say that the EU does not provide enough support. for his own security.

Many of the 31 GOP opponents in the Senate do not want to donate money to Ukraine under any circumstances, and some said they would only vote to do so if President Biden accepted the exact same order to strengthen the US-Mexico border migration crisis.

Some Republicans gave controversial statements that were political spinners.

On Tuesday, as a larger security package fell apart due to partisan divisions over border rules, Senator Lindsey Graham (RSC) stuck to his long-held vision of wanting to defeat on Putin at all costs.

“If we fail on the border, we will put our country in danger. There is no point in letting the world fall apart, because Putin’s victory in Ukraine will not solve any of our problems. It makes all of our problems worse,” Graham told reporters.

For several years Graham has co-hosted the Whitehouse group, nicknamed “Representative Company,” in honor of the late Sen. John S. McCain (R-Ariz.), a legendary presence who used his last trips to several times. Munich to reassure friends that Donald Trump’s worldview had not caught on in Washington.

On Tuesday, Graham was ready to scrap the controversial border provisions and only spend money to protect Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. “No matter how you feel about the border, the problems in Ukraine, if not managed well, will make all the problems we have at home worse,” he said.

But two days later, he reversed his position, voted against a move to debate the Ukraine-Israel-Taiwan package and joined the ranks of MAGA senators who to close the border.

“I enthusiastically support Ukraine, Taiwan and Israel, but as I have been saying for months now, we must protect America first,” Graham said in an official statement.

Why the border is such an impossible political issue

Later Thursday, he got into a heated debate on the Senate floor with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), who helped lead the talks on the border proposal. Graham derided the Sinema group for a “half-baked effort” to reach a border compromise, not acknowledging that he and his staff were regularly playing in the negotiations.

Then he held up a large poster board with a social media post from the Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who suggested that Ronald Reagan would be “turning in his grave” over the views of today’s Republicans.

“Shame on you. To the prime minister of Poland, I couldn’t care less what you think,” Graham said.

This is exactly the opposite message that Tillis, Whitehouse and others want to take to Munich.

“People in Ukraine right now are in the height of their winter, in trenches, being bombed and killed,” Tillis said. “The signal from the United States as to whether we are going to be there or not is not only important to the morale of those warriors who have been doing that every day for the last two years ‘ gone, but also for the 50-some countries that. They are also part of this coalition.”

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) said he expects to hear the same question from European counterparts next week: “Can we count on you?”

But those GOP voices are increasingly being drowned out by newcomers, such as Sen. JD Vance (R-Ohio), who won in 2022 after himself re- transformed from Trump critic to all-out MAGA theorist.

Vance plans to deliver that blunt message when he goes to his first conference in Munich. “First of all, this war is in your immediate backyard,” he said, then accused the Europeans of “effectively turning NATO into a privileged client in the United States. “

Of the 17 Republicans who took office after Trump won the presidency, only two voted to advance the Ukraine-based security package: Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who, at 76, has already been governor and 2012 of his party. a presidential candidate before joining the Senate five years ago; and Sen. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.), a leadership fellow elected in 2022.

Some Republicans are skeptical of dire predictions that if US funding dries up, Russia could crush the smaller country.

“I don’t think Russia has the ability to move through and take all of Ukraine, much less keep it. Before we got aid to Ukraine [in 2022], the Russians couldn’t do that,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Thursday. “I think what it will do is make the negotiation arrangement much more favorable for Putin, because he will feel stronger and stronger.”

Other Republicans say that’s naive.

“There are very important times in our nation’s history when what we do in this chamber is very important,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who co-authored the bill. on much of the security package, in floor speech. “How we vote can determine whether people live or die; whether men and women live under the conditions of an authoritarian system or as free people in a democratic country.”

Tillis, who is a member of the Armed Services Committee, said that Russia’s long-term plan is to waste American support for the war and loosen international support for Zelensky.

“We are leaving here with the Senate not accepting it, which is exactly what Putin is hoping will happen this weekend,” he said. ‘ going to do everything I can to prevent it.”

All of this could end up in a very conservative House, where GOP leaders will move in lock step with Trump. But the White House remained optimistic that Senate leaders were working to include measures some House Republicans want and hope an even bigger vote could come within days. since the last Senate passage of the security measure.

That would make for a much more enjoyable trip across the Atlantic.

“I think the delegation to the Munich Security Conference will not have a lot of egg on its face,” Whitehouse said.

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