GOP civil war on Ukraine builds between MAGA, Reagan Republicans

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A GOP civil war is building over U.S. policy toward Russia and Ukraine, pitting Reagan Republicans against more isolationist “MAGA” Republicans who take their political cues from former President Trump. 

The Reagan Republicans have been winning the battle, but the continued fight could shape future U.S. policy if the GOP takes the House or Senate in this fall’s midterms.   

It may also shape the contest to be the next GOP presidential nominee, with Trump himself a possible candidate.  

GOP lawmakers who want to continue U.S. support for Ukraine are sending out warning signals, calling for the U.S. to keep up its backing for Kyiv regardless of which party holds the congressional majorities.  

“If freedom is under assault by dictatorship and we don’t back up freedom, then what message does that send?” Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), who sits on the House Intelligence and House Foreign Affairs committees and who worked in Ukraine as an FBI agent, told The Hill in an interview.

Most GOP lawmakers have backed military aide to Ukraine, but Fitzpatrick said he senses support waning.  

Worries the U.S. could become fatigued with the fighting in Ukraine, or distracted by domestic problems, have never been far from the minds of policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic. High inflation and the prospect of a recession is another danger.  

“The support early on was very strong and very bipartisan. Is some of that support waning? Yes,” Fitzpatrick said. “Part of it is natural just because it’s not in the headlines. … We can’t allow domestic politics to overshadow the fact that there’s genocide going on in Ukraine right now.” 

Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, invoked Reagan’s name in calling on lawmakers to not waver in their support.  

“I would say to those that criticize, do you really want to do this? Ronald Reagan would be deeply disappointed,” he said. “He’d hang his head in shame if he knew that we walked away from Ukrainians when we could help them and we have the ability to help them.” 

GOP lawmakers who oppose support for Ukraine largely say they do not want to send money abroad when it can be used in the U.S. to fortify the southern border and invest in domestic energy production, among other issues.  

In May, 57 House Republicans voted against a $40 billion aid package to Ukraine. The “no” votes included some of Trump’s most loyal allies, including Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.) and Matt Gaetz (Fla.). 

In a tweet, Gaetz committed to ending U.S. support for Ukraine if Republicans take control of the House after November.  

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has issued a clarion call for the U.S. and democratic allies to help end Russia’s war by December, to stop the bloodshed but also anticipating waning global support.  

“I think bipartisan support for Ukraine is still very strong in Congress, but it’s definitely something to watch,” Melinda Haring, deputy director of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center, said of the split among Republicans. “The sentiment definitely is growing.” 

Sen. Josh Hawley (Mo.), a Trump ally who voted against certifying President Biden’s election victory, is one of 11 Senate Republicans who voted against the $40 billion aid package for Ukraine in May. 

He told The Hill that his vote against the aid “clearly” showed he was in the minority “in the caucus,” but added, “In the party, no.” 

While a July Morning Consult poll showed large majorities in both parties are concerned about Russia’s war in Ukraine, it also found that the number of Republicans saying “not enough” is being done to halt Russia’s war in Ukraine had dropped by half since the first month of the Kremlin’s invasion, from 40 percent to 20 percent. And while 37 percent of GOP voters said “the right amount” is being done for Ukraine, 30 percent said “too much” is being done. 

The elections could also bring more Ukraine skeptics to Congress.

Trump-backed Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance is running to succeed pro-Ukraine Sen. Rob Portman (R), who is retiring.

Vance has criticized Ukraine as a “corrupt nation run by oligarchs.” And while he has condemned Russia’s invasion, Vance has also called it “insulting and strategically stupid to devote billions of resources to Ukraine while ignoring the problems in our own country.”

Hawley, asked if he expects voters to support candidates who reflect his position on Ukraine, said, “If you look at people like J.D. Vance, for example, I think you would probably see a position close to the one that I hold.”

Hawley said he supports targeted military assistance but is against economic support that veers into “nation building,” saying it depletes funds needed to counter the threat from China.  

Some Democrats say they are confident that the majority of their Republican colleagues will continue to support U.S. assistance for Ukraine.  

“I actually think there’s been very strong bipartisan support for Ukraine. It was a minority of people who voted against the aid, and they sort of vote against everything. I don’t expect that to change,” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), co-chair of the Senate NATO Observer Group and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told The Hill.  

Others are much more concerned.  

Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.), a former CIA official who serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called a potential GOP majority “deeply concerning” because “we see such an extremist element on the other side of the aisle that’s self-aligning with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, as well as a whole host of others with extreme positions.” 

Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas), who traveled with Fitzpatrick to Ukraine in May, called it an “unholy alliance” between far-right isolationists and what he described as the anti-war left.

However, while progressive lawmakers are opposed to increased U.S. military spending in general, they have almost entirely backed legislation providing defensive aid to Ukraine — though with strict oversight.

Progressive Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) authored legislation requiring the Pentagon to report on efforts to prevent U.S. provided-weapons to Ukraine from “being sold on the black market or obtained by extremist groups.”

Crenshaw accused the “populist-right” of lying and seeking to “cherry-pick certain facts to degrade any kind of sympathy for Ukraine into increased sympathy for Russian interests.” But he said extremes on both the right and left pose a risk. 

“You’re seeing that unholy alliance on this particular situation between the populist right and the far left and it’s very strange. These are people who never wanted us to win the Cold War, never would have won World War II — they’re loud, but they’re very few.”  

Mike Lillis contributed.

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