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Opinion Pelosi’s partisan politics on Ukraine could have deadly consequences

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) addresses journalists in Rzeszow, Poland, on May 1 after an unannounced visit to Kyiv, Ukraine. (Wojtek Radwanski/AFP/Getty Images)
5 min

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) deserves credit for leading a congressional delegation to Kyiv to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky — a trip, she tweeted, that sent “an unmistakable and resounding message to the entire world: America stands firmly with Ukraine.”

It would have been a much more resounding message had it been bipartisan.

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The speaker’s all-Democrat delegation included House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), but the committee’s ranking Republican, Rep. Michael R. Turner (Ohio), was not invited, according to congressional sources. Neither was Rep. Mike D. Rogers (Ala.), the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, which is responsible for the $33 billion military aid package President Biden has requested for Ukraine. Yet a Democratic member of the committee, Rep. Jason Crow (Colo.), was included. Pelosi’s counterpart, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), also was not invited — because of bad blood between them, a Pelosi spokesman told me. The only ranking Republican on a committee with jurisdiction over Ukraine policy to be invited was Rep. Michael McCaul (Tex.), the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who had just returned from his third trip to the region and could not go.

After McCaul told Pelosi he could not go, he recommended she ask Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.), the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Europe. Fitzpatrick is also co-chairman of the bipartisan Congressional Ukraine Caucus and a former FBI agent whose last assignment before entering Congress was in Kyiv. He had a prior commitment, Fitzpatrick told me, but “I would have canceled in a second if I had been invited.” But he wasn’t. Why didn’t Pelosi include him? Perhaps, he says, it’s because he is on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s target list of 22 Republican or open seats it hopes to win in November. McCaul also recommended that Pelosi invite Rep. Dan Meuser (R-Pa.), another member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. He also did not receive an invitation.

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The Pelosi spokesman told me that “numerous” GOP House members were invited, though he declined to offer names, and that “none of the Republicans accepted the invitation.” He said that “given the security precautions for this trip,” members could not be told the destination was Kyiv and were instead “told this was a codel to Poland.” But McCaul was told that the congressional delegation planned to go to Ukraine. And the idea that Pelosi could not tell the destination to senior members of Congress’s national security committees — who have access to our nation’s most highly classified intelligence — is absurd. If she had wanted to bring senior Republicans with her to meet with Zelensky, she could have. Including Republicans who have been critical of her would have sent a powerful message: Whatever our differences at home, we are united in support of Ukraine. But she chose not to do so.

Ultimately, what matters more than the photo op is the military aid package that Congress approves. But instead of calling the House back into session upon her return to pass the $33 billion in military and humanitarian support immediately, Pelosi is linking the Ukraine aid to a controversial package of billions in additional covid relief. Asked about tying the two priorities together, Pelosi told reporters on Friday: “I’m all for that,” adding that “we need to have the covid money.”

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Pelosi knows full well that many Republicans have legitimate concerns about additional pandemic spending after Democrats wasted on non-covid projects much of the $1.9 trillion they approved on a party-line vote last year. She also knows that Senate Republicans are rightly linking a vote on covid relief to a vote on bipartisan legislation to keep Title 42 — the public health order that allows border officials to turn away migrants in an effort to minimize virus spread — in place until 60 days after the surgeon general announces the end of the pandemic public health emergency. So, linking Ukraine aid to covid relief necessarily entangles it in the divisive politics of the southern border.

Pelosi might think she can get Republicans to back down on Title 42 by blaming any delays in Ukraine aid on them. “This is called legislating,” Pelosi said. Ukrainians are fighting for their lives — they don’t have time to wait for Congress to “legislate” on extraneous issues.

Rep. Michael Waltz (R-Fla.) — who also was not invited to Kyiv by Pelosi but tells me he gladly would have gone to meet Zelensky — tweeted: “If Speaker Pelosi’s tough talk in Ukraine is serious, she should immediately call the House back into session to vote on additional weapons for Ukraine that is NOT paired with COVID spending. We are in a race against time with the Russians.”

He’s right. Not bringing any Republicans to Kyiv was a lost opportunity. But playing political brinkmanship with aid to Ukraine that enjoys broad bipartisan support would be a scandal with deadly consequences.