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Chris Murphy backs Biden, spars with GOP over Ukraine military aid

Sen. Chris Murphy doing a live shot on MSNBC outside his home in Hartford.
Sen. Chris Murphy doing a live shot on MSNBC outside his home in Hartford.

Sen. Chris Murphy began his day Friday standing outside his home in Hartford for a live MSNBC appearance on Ukraine that first detoured to a Republican colleague’s colorful complaints of his “tribal hackery” and “Twitter self-pleasuring.”

That was how U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, speaking Thursday on the Senate floor, angrily described Murphy’s take on Twitter that Sasse and others who were demanding that Joe Biden do more for Ukraine had voted recently against aid to that country.

“I think it speaks to how sensitive Republicans are about being called to task on saying the right things about Ukraine and not being willing to put their vote where their mouth is,” said Murphy, a Democrat.

Sasse was one of a dozen Republican senators who demanded Biden be more aggressive in opposing the Russian invasion of Ukraine, prompting Murphy to accurately Tweet that nine of the 12 had voted against $800 million in military aid.

The Republican, who serves with Murphy on the Foreign Relations Committee, said that Murphy was disingenuous by failing to mention that aid to Ukraine was less than 1% of a $1.5 trillion spending bill that passed with bipartisan support.

“Do you think a single person that your Twitter self-pleasuring was for, do you think that a single person that voted against it, voted against it because they were against Ukrainian aid?” Sasse asked.

“Absolutely not,” Murphy replied.

“So then what’s the point of the Tweet?”

“The point is this. It’s that the only way this place passes legislation is compromise, is voting on pieces of legislation that have in it –

“Where are the pieces, dude?” Sasse interrupted. “It’s $1.5 trillion.”

The exchange was unusual given that Murphy and Sasse generally are on cordial terms, something Sasse hinted at in his floor speech, noting the two senators talk “off line.”

“We have a good and generally friendly relationship,” Murphy said. “We do spend time talking about what’s going on in his party, and the way we talk about the way Democrats and Republicans talk about each other in public.”

On Friday, Murphy talked to MSNBC and then to reporters in Hartford outside the state Capitol about the risks of a wider war with Russia should America follow the advice of Senate hawks.

“It is important to understand the context of this moment. Never before has the United States been this close to conflict with Russia,” Murphy said, noting that U.S. aid to the Afghan mujahideen rebel forces was covert during the Soviet-Afghan war of 1979 to 1989.

“This is the first time that the United States has overtly funded an opposition force that is directly fighting the Russians. That comes with risks,” Murphy said. “We think the risks are required in order to meet this moment.”

In a video appeal to Congress on Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky expressed thanks for the U.S. military aid but reiterated his call for the U.S. and NATO to block Russian planes from attacking civilians in Ukraine.

Murphy said he supported Biden’s position of stopping short of direct military action.

He was accompanied in Hartford by Alexander B. Kuzma of the Ukrainian Catholic Education Foundation, who politely suggested the U.S. consider at least an airlift of food into the Ukraine.

Kuzma did not criticize Biden’s position but suggested it may need to evolve.

“As conditions change on the ground, there may come a time where the calculus changes, and the U.S. government and NATO might have to change their views,” Kuzma said.

Murphy said Biden was now acting within his presidential authority and did not need congressional war-powers authorization.

“As a legal matter, we have always had an active debate about what kind of activity triggers the need for congressional authorization. There’s not a clear line. But my conclusion is military support and intelligence-sharing alone is not enough to require a declaration of war,” Murphy said.

“But there are actions you can take short of putting hundreds of thousands of American troops on the ground in a foreign country that would require a declaration of war. We aren’t near that moment yet.”

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