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Republicans are hoping you have amnesia about Donald Trump and Ukraine
Also: Biden's State of the Union.
It feels like ancient history now, but it was barely two years ago that every Republican in Congress (with the exception of Mitt Romney) stood by Donald Trump after he was caught in the act of trying to disarm Ukraine.
Now, in their desperation to spin Russia’s brutal attack on Ukraine into a political attack on President Biden, some of those very same Republicans are hoping you suffer from a case of amnesia about the circumstances surrounding Trump’s first impeachment — which took place after Trump used nearly $400 million in military aid to try to extort Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government into coming up with dirt on the Bidens. And it’s worth remembering that military aid was desperately needed by Ukraine because the country has been at war with Russia since 2014.
Perhaps the most egregious example of this whitewashing came from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who went on Fox & Friends on Tuesday to suggest Biden could’ve prevented Russia’s attack had he provided more military aid to Ukraine.
“It’s the actions that we could’ve done before from this administration that would make sure today wasn’t happening,” he said. “We could’ve supplied the weapons to Ukraine.”
First, McCarthy’s criticism is wrong on its merits. Ukraine has received over $1 billion in security assistance from the US over the past year, including $350 million that was provided just days ago. So it’s simply not the case that the Biden administration has been stingy.
But second, if anyone should refrain from baselessly accusing Biden of not arming Ukraine, it’s McCarthy, who not only defended Trump when he was caught withholding military aid from the country, but even insisted he had valid reasons to do it.
McCarthy isn’t the only House Republican wandering onto this precarious limb. Elise Stefanik, who rose to national prominence as a part of Trump’s impeachment defense team, is also now pretending she has firm convictions about the importance of standing with Ukraine.
Recall that Trump didn’t just withhold military aid to Ukraine as leverage to get the Zelensky government to investigate the Bidens. With help from other administration officials, he also spread baseless conspiracy theories aimed at exonerating Putin by framing Ukraine for interfering in the 2016 election.
Trump’s extortion attempt was far from the first time he tried to undercut Ukraine. He surrounded himself with pro-Russian people like Sam Clovis and Michael Flynn during his 2016 presidential run. His campaign also worked that year “to make sure the new Republican platform won’t call for giving weapons to Ukraine to fight Russian and rebel forces, contradicting the view of almost all Republican foreign policy leaders in Washington,” as the Washington Post put it.
Republicans like McCarthy and Stefanik weren’t particularly bothered by any of this. But they’re now trying to pose as Ukraine’s friends, simply because doing so presents an opportunity to undercut Biden. This is why I’m in the habit of describing shamelessness as the MAGA superpower.
Owning libs as a way of life
You can argue the Biden administration miscalculated by only slapping severe sanctions on Russia after Putin’s invasion of Ukraine had begun. It’s unlikely but possible stiffer measures earlier would’ve had a deterrent effect. But the bottom line is that broadly speaking, Biden is playing out a pretty bad hand quite effectively.
He kept Putin off balance and neutralized the Russian information war by declassifying and publicizing intelligence about Russian troop movements and plans in the weeks leading up to the invasion — intelligence that, unfortunately, turned out to be quite accurate. He’s kept NATO countries united in support of the Ukrainian cause and issued crippling economic sanctions against Russia. And he’s spoken with clarity and consistency about why he won’t involve American troops in the fighting in Ukraine, even while the US remains committed to NATO.
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So it shouldn’t be a surprise that Republicans like Mitt Romney have acknowledged Biden is doing what their party probably would’ve done 20 years ago. But what has been notable is how hard the GOP’s clown caucus is working to make it seem as though the president has blood on his hands.
Consider Ted Cruz’s incoherent attacks on Biden for not yet sanctioning Russian oil and gas, but also for not doing more to bring gas prices down. Remarkably, as if to illustrate his lack of principle, Cruz made these criticisms in back-to-back tweets on Tuesday.
Along similar lines, consider Sen. John Barrasso’s quip about how “it's as if Vladimir Putin were Joe Biden's Secretary of Energy.” Or take the GOP’s official Twitter account, which posted at least 10 tweets attacking Biden of 24-hour period leading into Monday’s State of the Union speech without having a single negative thing to say about Putin at all.
While all of this is going on, former President Trump has been doing interviews and delivering speeches in which he’s not only undermined the administration and NATO, but characterized Putin as “[a] genius,” “very savvy,” and “smart.” As they nitpick Biden, Republicans like Tom Cotton are contorting themselves to avoid saying anything negative about the former guy, who’s praising a murderous strongman trying to obliterate a neighboring democracy with tanks.
Put it all together and you can understand why Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) had no patience for a floor speech McCarthy delivered on Monday criticizing Biden’s handling of Russia’s war on Ukraine.
"I'm not going to be lectured by someone who takes their marching orders from Donald Trump, who said Putin's invasion of Ukraine was a genius and savvy move,” he said as soon as McCarthy finished speaking.
Later, McGovern added: “[Trump] froze military assistance to Ukraine, they said nothing. Withheld a White House meeting with Zelensky, turned Ukraine policy over to Giuliani — I could go on and on. So we are not gonna be lectured by them.”
Nor should he be. And hopefully other people can see through how Republicans are trying to have it both ways as well.
Some thoughts on SOTU
I ended up watching Biden’s first State of the Union address in the wee hours of the morning and posted a thread of highlights, which you can watch starting with the below tweet.
Fox News is going to unintentionally hilarious lengths to pick Biden’s speech apart, but I thought it was solid. He led with strong words of solidarity about Ukraine, offered a moving tribute to retiring Justice Breyer, provided an empathetic and hopeful assessment of the Covid pandemic, and more. It was jarring to see very few people in the House chamber wearing masks, a tangible sign things seem to be trending toward normalcy.
Reactions are always a fun and notable part of SOTU. Republicans cheered when Biden talked about the importance of funding the police, but didn’t when he touted the record job growth he’s presided over.
And, in the night’s ugliest moment, Lauren Boebert actually jeered Biden as he talked about US soldiers killed in action.
(Boebert was widely criticized for this but remained unrepentant about her actions on Wednesday morning.)
Is the speech going to change the fate of Biden’s stalled legislative agenda in Congress or of Democrats in this year’s midterms? Probably not. But I thought he did a good job speaking to the center-left constituency that voted him into the White House in the first place. It was an easy speech to watch, delivered by a president who seems to be in control as he guides the country through turbulent domestic and international waters.