The Senate Forges Ahead on Ukraine
Plus: Taking Trump’s latest anti-NATO comments seriously.
The foreign-policy divide between MAGA Republicans and the party old guard has rarely been as stark as it is this morning. Happy Tuesday.
Just hours ago, the Senate voted 70-29 to authorize $95 billion in additional military aid to Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan. Twenty-two Republican senators voted in support.
Donald Trump and his allies in conservative media had waged a blistering pressure campaign against the bill.
“FROM THIS POINT FORWARD, ARE YOU LISTENING U.S. SENATE(?),” Trump thundered on Truth Social over the weekend. “NO MONEY IN THE FORM OF FOREIGN AID SHOULD BE GIVEN TO ANY COUNTRY UNLESS IT IS DONE AS A LOAN, NOT JUST A GIVEAWAY.”
“This Ukraine vote will draw the battle lines of who in Red States will start to get primary challenges,” Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk tweeted last night.
That was enough to cow even some ostensible defense hawks: Sen. Lindsey Graham voted no after echoing Trump’s call for the aid to be “a loan instead of a grant.” And Trump’s allies forced an all-night session with a talking filibuster.
But other Republicans forged ahead anyway: “Our base cannot possibly know what’s at stake at the level that any well-briefed U.S. senator should know about what’s at stake if Putin wins,” Sen. Thom Tillis told Punchbowl News yesterday.
Although a majority of the House supports additional aid to Ukraine, the bill’s fate in the House remains uncertain. Speaker Mike Johnson has said he will not bring it up for a vote, citing its absence of border-security provisions: “The mandate of national security supplemental legislation was to secure America’s own border before sending additional foreign aid around the world.”
Whether supporters will attempt to force a vote anyway via long-shot procedural maneuvers like a discharge petition remains to be seen.
“The president did not act swiftly. He did not do his job. He didn’t take steps so federal law could be faithfully executed, and order restored. Instead, according to public reports, he watched television happily as the chaos unfolded. He kept pressing his scheme to overturn the election! . . . [But] we have no power to convict and disqualify a former officeholder who is now a private citizen.”
–Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, speaking on the Senate floor, February 13, 2021
Three years ago today, most Republican senators voted not to convict Trump following his impeachment in the wake of the January 6 assault on the Capitol.
January 6 and February 24
Tim Miller made a good point on yesterday’s Bulwark Podcast: It’s one thing to take an irresponsible position on something that could happen in the future. It’s not good—especially if you’re president of the United States! Still, presidents can pop off with ill-considered thoughts they could later be talked out of or which they might not follow through on.
But it’s another thing when things are happening—life and death things—and you choose that moment to do or say something wildly irresponsible. What was once foolish becomes reckless. What was once asking for trouble becomes cheering on—even colluding in—a crime.
Donald Trump was always generally anti-NATO and pro-Putin. That prospective irresponsibility was dangerous. But his irresponsibility today, now that Putin has cast the die, is far worse. To glibly invite Putin to invade our NATO allies today—two years after February 24, 2022—that is horrifying.
There’s every reason—based on Trump’s current statements—to think that as president Trump will help Putin win his war against Ukraine, and that Trump also won’t uphold our NATO commitments to Ukraine’s neighbors.
This is just one way in which a Trump second term would be so much more dangerous than even his first.
There’s of course another issue of fundamental importance about which one could make a comparable argument: Democracy and the rule of law here at home.
It was one thing to be pro-Putin or anti-NATO before February 24; it’s another to be pro-Putin and anti-NATO after February 24. Just as it was one thing to be a defender or rationalizer or excuser of Donald Trump before January 6, 2021, and it’s another to be a defender or rationalizer or excuser after January 6.
Being a defender of either attack—on Ukraine or on the Capitol—should be disqualifying for any candidate for federal office, let alone the presidency.
And yet Donald Trump is stronger today politically than he’s ever been. He must be defeated. But will he be?
How are our NATO allies reacting to Trump’s weekend comments suggesting he’d encourage Vladimir Putin to attack them if they didn’t spend enough on their own military defense?
Here’s German Chancellor Olaf Scholz: “NATO’s promise of protection is unrestricted—‘all for one and one for all.’ And let me say clearly for current reasons: Any relativization of NATO’s support guarantee is irresponsible and dangerous, and is in the interest of Russia alone.”
Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk added that Trump’s remarks “should act like a cold shower for all those who continue to underestimate this increasingly real threat which Europe is facing.”
Not to worry, though, say Trump’s Senate supporters:
Sen. Marco Rubio to CNN: “He doesn’t talk like a traditional politician, and we’ve already been through this. You would think people would’ve figured it out by now.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham to Reuters: “Russia didn’t invade anybody when he was president, and if he’s president again they won’t.”
Sen. Tom Cotton to the New York Times: “NATO countries that don’t spend enough on defense, like Germany, are already encouraging Russian aggression and President Trump is simply ringing the warning bell.”
Long Islanders To the Polls
The first House special election of 2024 takes place today. Voters in New York’s 3rd District will head to the polls to fill the seat vacated by George Santos, the freshman, serial fabulist, and alleged fraudster whom the House voted to expel back in November. The contestants: Former Rep. Tom Suozzi, the Democrat who held the seat from 2017 to 2023, and Mazi Pilip, a Nassau County legislator making her first foray into national politics.
Suozzi, who opted to run for governor instead of defending his seat in 2022, has never had a particularly difficult race in the Long Island district—but the area has inched rightward in recent years over growing concerns about immigration and crime. Recent polls have Suozzi a hair up within the margin of error. NBC News reports:
The Siena College survey found that Suozzi has a net favorable rating, while Pilip is slightly in negative territory. But twice as many voters had no opinion on Pilip than on Suozzi.
Notably, Pilip held a 9-point lead on addressing the migrant influx into the United States, which has melded together with crime as top-of-mind issues for voters. The Democratic brand is weak on those questions, polling shows, which fueled GOP victories here and in other New York City-area suburban districts in the 2022 midterm elections.
Suozzi has acknowledged that his party has an image problem on border security, and he’s spending heavily to combat Pilip’s arguments and Republican ads tying him to the left wing of his party on immigration. Presenting himself as a centrist, Suozzi often highlights that he was one of just 18 House Democrats who voted with Republicans in 2018 on a resolution supporting ICE.
The likelihood of a Democrat winning the special election is a large part of why Santos survived so long: GOP leaders winced at the prospect of losing even a single seat of their razor-thin House majority.
1. ‘A Parade of Servility’
Much ink has been spilled over Tucker Carlson’s interview last week with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Up at The Bulwark this morning, Cathy Young has a great piece on how it was received in the Russian-speaking world:
Putin’s deep dive into Russian and Ukrainian history—the “30 seconds”-turned-25 minutes, complete with a folder of supporting documents translated from Old Church Slavonic—occasioned as much derision in the independent Russian media as they did in the United States. It was “very irresponsible” of Putin to start in the ninth century and not in the Mesozoic era, with the separation of continents and the descent of man, quipped journalist Maria Pevchikh. Others said Carlson’s face as Putin spoke looked like that of someone stuck on a long train trip next to a slightly looney fellow passenger who just won’t shut up. …
But most independent commentators, both Russian and Ukrainian, were more interested in a much more recent part of Putin’s trip down false memory lane: the claim that Poland started World War II by provoking Adolf Hitler into an invasion. This bizarre and victim-blaming version of history smacks unmistakably of Nazi apologetics; indeed, an opposition politician in Russia has already sent a complaint to the Russian Investigative Committee asking that Putin be charged with “rehabilitation of Nazism.” (Of course, we all know that the complainer is far more likely to be in trouble than Putin himself.) The parallel to Putin’s claim that he was left with no choice but to invade Ukraine is obvious.
2. Au Revoir, Ronna
Donald Trump shivved Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel last night, endorsing North Carolina GOP chair Michael Whatley as his next pick to head up the RNC in a campaign statement. As rumors about her job security swirled, McDaniel had reportedly traveled to Mar-a-Lago over the weekend to petition Trump to delay any talk of her stepping down until after the South Carolina primary this month.
Trump didn’t stop there: “My very talented daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, has agreed to run as the RNC Co-Chair. Lara is an extremely talented communicator and is dedicated to all that MAGA stands for. She has told me she wants to accept this challenge and would be GREAT!”
3. GOP Establishment Embraces Kari Lake in AZ
Kari Lake’s months of courting the Republican establishment in D.C. are paying off.
Once the consummate outsider, Lake has been maneuvering since even before launching her Arizona Senate bid last fall to show party leaders she’s ready to play nice—and move beyond her antagonistic and election-denial-centered 2022 run for governor.
Her efforts’ biggest victory to date arrives Tuesday: Senate Republicans’ campaign arm is endorsing Lake, cementing her status as the national GOP’s candidate of choice for the swing state where they’ve struggled recently. It’s a move that indicates top Republicans believe she has put together a serious campaign, and it sends a strong message to donors that she is worth their investment.