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By Thursday afternoon, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) had had enough of posturing by fellow Republicans and their opposition to urgently needed Ukraine aid and Russian sanctions. The bill will now be delayed 10 days during a Senate recess, leaving Ukraine hanging as Russian troops mass on its border. “What has happened? Where are our priorities? . . . You can call yourself Republicans, that’s fine, because that’s your voter registration. Don’t call yourself Reagan Republicans,” he declared. He was channeling disgust among conservative foreign policy experts over the GOP’s hang-up over International Monetary Fund rules. (“Is the IMF whether it is fixed or not more important than the lives of thousands of people?”)
A conservative foreign policy think tanker disputed even the rationale for opposing the IMF funding. He told me, “There is no reason to oppose the IMF reform. It merely rationalizes voting percentages based on size of economy. This gives Brazil, China, India, et al, a slight rise, at the expense mostly of Europe. The U.S. share falls from something like 17.4 to 17. It doubles the amount of everyone’s contributions. I have yet to see anyone explain why this is bad. And our friends around the world are dumbfounded that we would oppose [it].” McCain echoed this argument on the floor.
Republicans who stalled the bill did not even have intellectual consistency going for them. If their complaint was about adding extraneous material to the bill, they shouldn’t have larded it up with a provision to block the Internal Revenue Service from going after political nonprofits. And even if one had a complaint, was it worth keeping funds from flowing to Ukraine? As for the House bill, McCain pointed out that it lacked sanctions language to punish Russia.
All in all it was a shabby performance by some Republicans. Most surprising was Florida’s Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), whose opposition sounded like it came from FreedomWorks’s talking points. His spokesman seemed put out that attention was focused on him when other Republicans also opposed the measure. The think tanker retorted, “Rubio is the one who made Ukraine his big cause this month. . . . [T]his is when we need just a modicum of courage.”
This is, as a Senate aide in favor of the bill said, one more “fool’s errand,” since the bill passed 14-3 in committee and has well over 60 votes to pass. It will get done, but in the meantime Ukraine may be invaded.
If a senator wants to pose as a foreign policy guru then he can’t merely give nice speeches. His votes — whether on Syria, Ukraine, sexual assault in the military or any other dicey matter — have to reflect his stated views. It’s no defense to say, “But I gave nice speeches!” That’s a self-indictment.
Foreign policy is often controversial or poorly understood by voters; there is often no political reward in sticking up for national security. If there is always an excuse for voting no — and there always is in the world of imperfect legislation — then your record turns out to be no different than that of committed isolationists.
McCain is right on this, and the conservatives who delayed the vote are in a poor position to cite the president for weak leadership. They’d do well to look in the mirror on that charge.