GOP backs Trump on aid for Ukraine

Party members say Putin unstoppable

FILE - Smoke rises from a building in Bakhmut, site of the heaviest battles with the Russian troops in the Donetsk region, Ukraine, April 26, 2023. The GOP has been softening its stance on Russia ever since Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election following Russian hacking of his Democratic opponents. The reasons include Russian President Vladimir Putin holding himself out as an international champion of conservative Christian values, the GOP's growing skepticism of international entanglements and Trump's own personal embrace of the Russian leader. Now the GOP's ambivalence on Russia has stalled additional aid to Ukraine. (AP Photo/Libkos, File)
FILE - Smoke rises from a building in Bakhmut, site of the heaviest battles with the Russian troops in the Donetsk region, Ukraine, April 26, 2023. The GOP has been softening its stance on Russia ever since Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election following Russian hacking of his Democratic opponents. The reasons include Russian President Vladimir Putin holding himself out as an international champion of conservative Christian values, the GOP's growing skepticism of international entanglements and Trump's own personal embrace of the Russian leader. Now the GOP's ambivalence on Russia has stalled additional aid to Ukraine. (AP Photo/Libkos, File)

At about 2 a.m. last Tuesday, Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin stood on the Senate floor and explained why he opposed sending more aid to help Ukraine fend off the invasion launched in 2022 by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"I don't like this reality," Johnson said. "Vladimir Putin is an evil war criminal," but he quickly added: "Vladimir Putin will not lose this war."

That argument -- that the Russian president cannot be stopped so there's no point in using American taxpayer dollars against him -- marks a new stage in the Republican Party's growing acceptance of Russian expansionism in the age of Donald Trump.

The GOP has been softening its stance on Russia ever since Trump won the 2016 election following Russian hacking of his Democratic opponents. There are several reasons for the shift. Among them, Putin is holding himself out as an international champion of conservative Christian values and the GOP is growing increasingly skeptical of overseas entanglements. Then there's Trump's personal embrace of the Russian leader.

Now the GOP's ambivalence on Russia has stalled additional aid to Ukraine at a pivotal time in the war.

Last week, the Senate passed a foreign aid package that included $61 billion for Ukraine on a 70-29 vote, but Johnson was one of a majority of Republicans to vote against the bill after their late-night stand to block it. In the Republican-controlled House, Speaker Mike Johnson said his chamber will not be "rushed" to pass the measure, even as Ukraine's military warns of dire shortages of ammunition and artillery.

Many Republicans are openly frustrated that their colleagues don't see the benefits of helping Ukraine. Putin and his allies have banked on democracies wearying of aiding Kyiv, and Putin's GOP critics warn that NATO countries in eastern Europe could become targets of an emboldened Russia that believes the U.S. won't counter it.

"Putin is losing," Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina said on the floor before Johnson's speech. "This is not a stalemate." Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky was one of 22 Republican senators to back the package, while 26 opposed it.

The divide within the party was on stark display Friday with the prison death of Russian opposition figure and anti-corruption advocate Alexei Navalny, which President Joe Biden and other world leaders blamed on Putin. Trump notably stood aside from that chorus Monday in his first public comment on the matter that referred to Navalny by name.

Offering no sympathy or attempt to affix blame, Trump posted on Truth Social that the "sudden death of Alexei Navalny has made me more and more aware of what is happening in our Country. It is a slow, steady progression, with CROOKED, Radical Left Politicians, Prosecutors, and Judges leading us down a path to destruction."

Nikki Haley, his Republican presidential primary rival, said Monday that Trump is "siding with a thug" in his embrace of Putin.

Tillis responded to Navalny's death by saying in a post, "History will not be kind to those in America who make apologies for Putin and praise Russian autocracy."

Mike Johnson issued a statement calling Putin a "vicious dictator" and pledging that he "will be met with united opposition," but he did not offer any way forward for passing the aid to Ukraine.

Within the Republican Party, skeptics of confronting Russia seem to be gaining ground.

"Nearly every Republican senator under the age of 55 voted NO on this America Last bill," Missouri Sen. Eric Schmitt, elected in 2022, posted on the social media site X, formerly known as Twitter, after the vote last week. "15 out of 17 elected since 2018 voted NO. Things are changing, just not fast enough."

Those who oppose additional Ukraine aid bristle at charges that they are doing Putin's handiwork. They contend that they are taking a hard-headed look at whether it's worth spending money to help the country.

"If you oppose a blank check to another country, I guess that makes you a Russian," Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville said on the Senate floor after posting that conservative commentator Tucker Carlson's recent controversial interview of Putin shows that "Russia wants peace" in contrast to "DC warmongers."

In interviews with voters waiting to see Trump speak Saturday night in Waterford Township, Mich., none praised Putin, but none wanted to spend more money confronting him, trusting Trump to handle the Russian leader.

Despite the reluctance within the GOP to continue supporting Ukraine, Russia remains deeply unpopular in the United States. A July 2023 Gallup poll found that just 5% had a favorable view of Putin, including 7% of Republicans.

But Putin has positioned his country as a symbol of Christian conservatism and resistance to LGBTQ rights, while portraying himself as an embodiment of masculine strength. The combination has appealed to populist conservatives across the Western world. Putin's appeal in some sectors of the right is demonstrated by Carlson's recent tour of Russia, after which the conservative host posted videos admiring the Moscow subway and a supermarket that he says "would radicalize you against our leaders."

Information for this article was contributed by Joey Cappelletti, Mary Clare Jalonick and Lisa Mascaro of The Associated Press.

  photo  FILE - Dead bodies are placed into a mass grave on the outskirts of Mariupol, Ukraine, March 9, 2022, as people cannot bury their dead because of the heavy shelling by Russian forces. The GOP has been softening its stance on Russia ever since Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election following Russian hacking of his Democratic opponents. The reasons include Russian President Vladimir Putin holding himself out as an international champion of conservative Christian values, the GOP's growing skepticism of international entanglements and Trump's own personal embrace of the Russian leader. Now the GOP's ambivalence on Russia has stalled additional aid to Ukraine. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka, File)
 
 
  photo  FILE - Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., meets with reporters at the Capitol in Washington, Feb. 14, 2024. The GOP has been softening its stance on Russia ever since Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election following Russian hacking of his Democratic opponents. The reasons include Russian President Vladimir Putin holding himself out as an international champion of conservative Christian values, the GOP's growing skepticism of international entanglements and Trump's own personal embrace of the Russian leader. Now the GOP's ambivalence on Russia has stalled additional aid to Ukraine. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
 
 
  photo  In this photo released by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on Monday, Feb. 19, 2024, Two soldiers of the Russian military engineering units eliminate the mine danger in the city of Avdiivka, eastern Ukraine. Russian forces have taken complete control of the Ukrainian city of Avdiivka. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)
 
 
  photo  FILE - Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures while speaking during a meeting in Chelyabinsk, Russia, Feb. 16, 2024. The GOP has been softening its stance on Russia ever since Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election following Russian hacking of his Democratic opponents. The reasons include Putin holding himself out as an international champion of conservative Christian values, the GOP's growing skepticism of international entanglements and Trump's own personal embrace of the Russian leader. Now the GOP's ambivalence on Russia has stalled additional aid to Ukraine. (Ramil Sitdikov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File)
 
 
  photo  FILE - A resident looks for belongings in an apartment building destroyed during fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces in Borodyanka, Ukraine, April 5, 2022. The GOP has been softening its stance on Russia ever since Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election following Russian hacking of his Democratic opponents. The reasons include Russian President Vladimir Putin holding himself out as an international champion of conservative Christian values, the GOP's growing skepticism of international entanglements and Trump's own personal embrace of the Russian leader. Now the GOP's ambivalence on Russia has stalled additional aid to Ukraine. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda, File)
 
 

Upcoming Events