Paul, Rubio lock horns with Biden officials over Ukraine support

GOP Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.) and Marco Rubio (Fla.) locked horns with Biden administration officials during a Wednesday morning Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on emergency funding for Ukraine.

The two Republican senators were the only members of the panel who openly opposed support for President Biden’s $105 billion supplemental appropriations request, which contains $60 billion in aid for Ukraine amid its war against invading Russian forces.

The pushback for further assistance to Ukraine has been steadily growing on the GOP side in the House, and has started to spread in the Senate, despite Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) consistently backing packages for Kyiv.

From the start of Wednesday’s hearing, Paul criticized the proposed aid during a back-and-forth with the State Department’s James O’Brien, assistant secretary of the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs. Paul asked if the State Department is considering changing course with the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war.

“You can have all of this goodwill, and try to fix the world’s problems, but you are ignoring the rot and ruin you are creating in your own country,” Paul said. “What is being done at the State Department to search for an offramp?”

O’Brien argued that the supplemental would be beneficial for the U.S. economy through investments in domestic manufacturing, and that by supporting Ukraine, the U.S. was actually saving on future defense spending.

“If we don’t stand with Ukraine now, we will be spending much more on defense in the future,” O’Brien said. “Much of the supplemental goes to reinvest in the United States, so, far from rot and ruin. We are shoring up the foundations in our energy sector.”

Paul intervened and argued the aid package is a gift for the defense industry.

“So your argument is that war and funding war around the world is good for our armaments industry,” Paul said. “Really, it is a justification of war. To me, that is sort of reprehensible.”

O’Brien assured the senator that he was not making the argument that war is “good,” but that in this case, “war is necessary.”

Rubio focused his criticism on the U.S. border and said funding should be focused there.

The Florida senator recounted the conversations he had with different people who were asking him why Ukraine is important when “we have 5-6000 people a day crossing our border,” the U.S. is $33 trillion in debt and the U.S. has to help Israel in its war on Hamas.

“We still have to build up our military because the real risk is China,” Rubio said. “Why is Ukraine important in that context? I hear that constantly.”

“We can’t allow borders to be changed unilaterally, and we have to stand with our allies,” Rubio said. “I’m not diminishing any of those things. But those arguments are too vague, they make sense here, but I’m just telling you, they’re too vague. And I think this notion that we need to do whatever it takes or however long it takes is also misguided.”

Erin McKee, development administrator at the U.S. Agency for International Development, responded by repeating the same argument she made to her father when he asked her, “Why should we support Ukraine?”

“If we falter in our support [to Ukraine], Russia will win,” McKee said. “And they won’t stop at Ukraine. We have been able to support through economic assistance, humanitarian assistance and security assistance without having our own soldiers on the ground. And we want to do everything we can to prevent that from happening.”

The rest of the senators who attended the hearing appeared open to supporting Ukraine aid.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) said she believes the U.S. “needs to continue to support this effort because not only is it Ukraine’s and NATO’s and Europe’s interest, but it is in our own national security interest.”

Fellow Democratic Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.) said that the U.S. needs to show up now because failure to act could have “catastrophic costs.”

“If we do not rise to meet this moment in the United States of America, from China to Iran, people are watching the resolve of this nation to protect a democratic ally,” Booker said.

“Failure in this moment could have catastrophic costs not only to Russia’s continued territorial ambitions, which they’ve made clear and laid plain, but also China and Iran as well.”

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