The former president and his MAGA acolytes have made Ukraine the enemy while encouraging Putin’s expansionist ambitions.

Will House speaker stand up to Trump and allow vote on Ukraine aid?

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., speaks at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, March 20, 2024. The race is on for Congress to pass the final spending package for the current budget year and push any threats of a government shutdown to the fall. With spending set to expire for several key federal agencies at midnight Friday, the House and Senate are expected to take up a $1.2 trillion measure that combines six annual spending bills into one package.(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

How grotesque to watch long-term U.S. security interests hang on the outcome of a political battle between the Hamlet-like speaker of the House, Mike Johnson, and vengeful MAGA conspiracy theorist Marjorie Taylor Greene.

As Congress returns from Easter break, Johnson still hasn’t made up his mind whether to allow a vote on a bill that includes $60 billion worth of desperately needed aid for Ukraine — which would assuredly pass with a bipartisan majority.

He could still bow to Greene, who (with a growing number of colleagues) opposes U.S. help for Kyiv. In the topsy-turvy system MAGA zealots have imposed on the GOP House caucus, one Republican ideologue — in this case, the representative from Georgia — can trigger the House speaker’s ouster.

While these two political lightweights dither, people are dying, as Ukrainian soldiers run out of artillery shells and Russia bombs civilian homes and infrastructure in large Ukrainian cities that lack air defenses.

“If the Congress doesn’t help Ukraine, Ukraine will lose the war,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky recently told the country’s local fundraising group, UNITED24. “If Ukraine loses this war, other countries will be attacked.”

Unless Johnson finds some courage, the responsibility for this security debacle will lie on his shoulders. The blood of Ukrainian victims already stains MAGA hands.

The congressional struggle over Ukraine aid has dragged on for six months, as the GOP tried to link it to reforms that limit migration across the southern border. But when the Senate passed a bipartisan aid bill that included strong border reforms, Donald Trump pressured most GOP senators to oppose it.

Because of Trump’s opposition — tied to the former president’s desire to use immigration as a campaign issue — Johnson has refused to let the House vote on the Senate bill, which would be the quickest route to speeding the aid on its way.

Both Trump and his acolytes seem blissfully blind to the encouragement they are offering Russian President Vladimir Putin to commit further mayhem against the United States and its allies.

In Ukraine, Putin feels totally free to up the scale of his war crimes against civilians, as the GOP turns against Kyiv while the world and the White House focus on Gaza. Swarms of Russian drones, many provided by Iran, now hover over major cities such as Kharkiv, deliberately hitting apartment blocks, malls, and civilian power stations.

“People are afraid of the double tap,” the Russian tactic of a second attack wave that targets first responders, I was told by phone by Ukrainian photojournalist Alex Babenko, who had just left Kharkiv. “Firefighters and police and repairmen can’t work, because drones are flying around.”

If the aid package passed, Ukraine could acquire more air defenses, along with desperately needed artillery shells for the front lines. The longer the delay, the greater the chance that Russia could break through Ukraine’s defensive lines.

America’s European allies, who collectively give Ukraine far more aid than the United States, are struggling to help fill the weapons supply gap. But there is no way to replace the lapse of U.S. military aid.

The Europeans see firsthand how Putin has been enabled by the paralysis of the U.S. Congress. The Russian leader shows no hesitation about assassinating Russian dissidents abroad — in London, in the center of Berlin, and most recently, in a Spanish town. He also is blatantly collecting foreign hostages — including Americans like Wall Street Journal correspondent Evan Gershkovich — to trade for jailed Russian spies.

Putin and his Kremlin minions regularly dispense threats about using nuclear weapons, while threatening non-NATO members in Europe, and militarizing the Arctic. Putin has repeatedly made clear, in public speeches, that he seeks to rebuild the onetime Russian empire, even if that means seizing more sovereign territory from Ukraine and other European nations.

Yet, Trump continues to boast that he could negotiate a peace deal between Russia and Ukraine within 24 hours if reelected. He has privately said he would do so by pressuring Ukraine to cede Crimea and the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine, according to a report in the Washington Post. (Trump thinks Russian-speaking Ukrainians would prefer to live under Moscow’s rule, in apparent ignorance of the fact that Putin has bombed cities and villages filled with Ukrainians who speak Russian into smithereens.)

In other words, the GOP candidate wants to force Ukraine to capitulate to an aggressive dictator who invaded a peaceful neighbor and seeks to turn Ukraine into a Soviet-style satellite. Given Trump’s hostility to Ukraine, Putin appears confident he can pursue his aims fully if the Republican wins.

Meantime, in Congress and MAGA world, far-right Republicans talk as if Ukraine is the enemy, using debunked claims about stolen U.S. funds and Ukrainian corruption that echo Kremlin propaganda (which has metastasized on X, formerly known as Twitter).

Michael Whatley, who Trump picked as cochair of the Republican National Committee, recently lumped Ukraine with Iran and China as an “aggressive” adversary that meddles with U.S. elections. (There was no mention of Russia.)

This is the fetid GOP atmosphere in which Speaker Johnson must make his decision: Does he want to do the right thing for American security, or kowtow to the MAGA mob whose leader admires Putin?

I must add here that President Joe Biden also faces a momentous choice: If aid resumes, the White House needs to stop foot-dragging on sending Ukraine key weapons systems such as long-range ATACMS missiles, with which Kyiv could expand its amazing progress in taking out Russian ships, military bases, and supply depots.

But first things first.

In the coming days, the future of the Ukraine war may be decided, either by a show of Johnsonian courage or by Putin’s pals in the GOP.

Source: The Inquirer