Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), flanked by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), left,...

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), flanked by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), left, and Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), speaks to reporters Thursday after Republicans blocked tens of billions of dollars in aid to Ukraine. Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite

Russian television propagandists who rarely have a good word for Americans rejoiced and applauded Republicans in the House and Senate on Wednesday. That's because they blocked a $111 billion spending package that would have provided $55 billion in military aid to Ukraine because it did not include their preferred border security measures. While President Joe Biden has signaled his willingness to negotiate some compromises, it looks increasingly uncertain that the package will pass before Congress goes on its scheduled holiday recess on Dec. 15.

That doesn’t mean Ukraine will immediately run out of American aid; Pentagon officials have said military assistance will continue through the winter from the remaining $4.8 billion already authorized to send weapons from U.S. stockpiles. On the day of the failed vote, the Department of Defense announced an immediate $175 million package for Kyiv that includes missiles and ammunition. But unless a spending package passes soon, it’s very likely Ukraine will be receiving fewer weapons, severely affecting its ability to fight the Russian invaders and reclaim its territory.

Is this a matter of dwindling interest in Ukraine among American voters, or of partisan politics? It’s true that over the past year, the percentage of Americans who say the U.S. is giving Ukraine too much aid has grown, sometimes even reaching a slight majority. In November, a NORC/Associated Press poll found those numbers shifting in Ukraine’s favor, with 45% saying the U.S. is spending too much on aid to Ukraine and 52% saying it’s “about the right amount" or "not enough." But that decline is itself partisan, since it’s taken place primarily among Republicans.

Notably, most GOP congressional leaders, including House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), say they want Ukraine to win and understand that Russia’s Vladimir Putin is a dangerous dictator who must be stopped. But they insist on tying aid to border measures that would drastically step up deportations and make it harder to get asylum.

Border control is a valid issue; many Democrats, including Biden, agree with the goal of better border security though not with the draconian measures Republicans want. But there is no reason to tie it to military aid to Ukraine (and other U.S. allies including Taiwan and Israel) except to humiliate Biden and try to pass hardline reforms without a proper debate. There is no connection between U.S. border security and U.S. assistance to Ukraine, unless one accepts the tortured logic of hardcore anti-immigration right-wingers who equate illegal immigration with “invasion.”

Imagine a situation in which one of the 50 states, experiencing a breakdown in law and order, urgently needed federal funds for assistance to its police forces and a Democratic Congress refused to authorize those funds unless a Republican White House compromised on abortion. Republicans and conservative media would rightly howl in outrage at this cynical move. Yet something very similar is happening here.

No, Ukraine is not an American state. But it’s an ally that has declared its intent to be a part of a U.S.-led free world, and is paying a heavy price for that dream. If U.S. aid falters, it will likely exacerbate divisions on aid to Ukraine in Europe, and it’s very likely Ukraine will be forced into a “peace agreement” that will give Putin time to rearm and resume his aggression. It will embolden and strengthen authoritarian, anti-American regimes around the world.

There’s still a chance to stop playing politics. Will enough Republicans wake up and realize that they don’t want to be the party of the knife in Ukraine’s back?

Opinions expressed by Cathy Young, a writer for The Bulwark, are her own.

Opinions expressed by Cathy Young, a writer for The Bulwark, are her own.

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