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Blumenthal urges funding for Ukraine during trip as GOP candidates split over aid

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., shakes hands with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv on Aug. 23, 2023.
Office of Sen. Richard Blumenthal
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., shakes hands with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv on Aug. 23, 2023.

As Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and two of his colleagues met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv on Wednesday, Republican presidential candidates sparred that night over whether the U.S. should continue providing aid to Ukraine.

Still, Blumenthal has been “deeply impressed” by the bipartisan support in Congress for sending aid to Ukraine as it continues to fend off Russia’s invasion over the past year and a half.

The Connecticut senator, who made his second trip to Ukraine this year, is hopeful there will be a similar response from both Democratic and Republican lawmakers to President Joe Biden’s recent request for new emergency spending, which includes $24 billion for security assistance as well as economic and humanitarian aid for the country.

“We’re going to be coming back very strongly united in bipartisan support for the supplemental [aid] the president has proposed,” Blumenthal said in a call as he travels next to Brussels.

“There is a lot of talk about a stalemate and stall, which is dead wrong. The progress is solid even if it’s a tough slog,” he continued. “The only way [Russian President Vladimir] Putin wins is if we pull the plug.”

In recent months, a growing segment within the GOP has become increasingly skeptical of sending more money to the country. While Congress has approved a few rounds of funding, some Republicans, particularly in the House, are now sharing doubts. And recent polling shows a majority of Americans do not want Congress to approve more funds, though the divide widens along party lines.

Most of the candidates running for the 2024 Republican nomination vouched their support, but the responses from two contenders highlighted the divide at the national level. And while he did not attend the debate, former President Donald Trump has also argued aid to Ukraine should be conditional.

As lawmakers gear up to consider another round of funding, Congress has approved a total of nearly $113 billion for Ukraine since the start of the war. Supporters argue consistent financial support of the country is necessary not only to defend democracy abroad, but also to protect America’s national security and prevent Putin from invading elsewhere.

Blumenthal traveled on Wednesday with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., to spend the day in Kyiv. On Thursday, he was headed to Brussels to meet with leadership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization about how the group can also do more militarily and economically for the region.

In addition to Biden’s emergency funding request, Blumenthal said he also hopes for a tougher response to companies violating sanctions, more long-range artillery and investments in Ukraine’s own manufacturing capacity so the country can get the weapons and munitions it needs.

Like the Connecticut senator, a majority of the candidates who participated in Wednesday’s GOP debate defended the need for continued investment in Ukraine with the exception of two.

Businessman Vivek Ramaswamy and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis believe the U.S. should focus on domestic issues, while also pushing for more assistance to Ukraine from European countries.

“I think that this is disastrous that we are protecting against an invasion across somebody else’s border when we should use those same military resources to prevent … the invasion of our own southern border here in the United States,” Ramaswamy said.

DeSantis did not go as far as Ramaswamy, saying he wants Europe to “step up and do their job” before the U.S. sends more.

“I would have Europe pull their weight,” DeSantis said. “I think our support should be contingent on them doing it.”

Those comments drew the ire of other Republican candidates at the debate.

“Under your watch, you will make America less safe,” former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said, referring to Ramaswamy. “You have no foreign policy experience and it shows.”

While Trump skipped the debate, he made similar statements about Ukraine at a rally in Pennsylvania last month, saying assistance should be conditioned based on investigations into the president’s son Hunter Biden’s business dealings.

“Congress should refuse to authorize a single additional shipment of our depleted weapons stockpiles … to Ukraine until the FBI, DOJ and IRS hand over every scrap of evidence they have on the Biden crime family’s corrupt business dealings,” Trump said in late July.

Blumenthal said he disagrees with the factions within the Republican Party who want to end aid to Ukraine. He pushed back that the U.S. can tackle both domestic and international needs to ensure that America’s national security is protected.

“There’s a broadening understanding that our national security is at stake. Putin will keep going if he wins in Ukraine,” he said. “There’s a real-world American national interest in stopping Putin, and we can do both immigration reform, solve domestic issues and still defend democracy when our own national security is at stake.”

The Connecticut Mirror/Connecticut Public Radio federal policy reporter position is made possible, in part, by funding from the Robert and Margaret Patricelli Family Foundation and Engage CT.

This story was originally published by the Connecticut Mirror.

Lisa Hagen is CT Public and CT Mirror’s shared Federal Policy Reporter. Based in Washington, D.C., she focuses on the impact of federal policy in Connecticut and covers the state’s congressional delegation. Lisa previously covered national politics and campaigns for U.S. News & World Report, The Hill and National Journal’s Hotline.

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