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Opinion Chris Murphy’s warning: A GOP House would defund the Ukraine struggle

Destroyed buildings in the center of Izyum, Ukraine, on Sept. 14. (Wojciech Grzedzinski for The Washington Post)

Since Russia invaded Ukraine, the U.S. government and many Americans have treated it as a given that we are deeply invested in this conflict, in practical and moral terms. But there are some dissenters, many aligned with Donald Trump’s right wing nationalist project, who for numerous reasons have been deeply skeptical of the Ukrainian cause and our support for it.

Now, with Congress debating a new round of funding for Ukraine, a question has arisen: If Republicans take back one or both houses of Congress, could they turn off the spigot of military and even humanitarian aid?

Sen. Chris Murphy just put this possibility squarely on the table. In an interview, the Connecticut Democrat warned that increased GOP control over Congress might halt military aid to Ukraine.

“If Republicans win control of the House or the Senate, I think there’s a likelihood that they will hold up any additional aid," Murphy told us.

As of now, Senate Republicans appear supportive of the Biden administration’s most recent request, for $12 billion to be added to a continuing resolution funding the government through September. But if Republicans were to win the House (let alone the Senate), that could change everything.

“I think there’s a real risk that the continuing resolution will be the last time we supply funding to Ukraine,” Murphy said, noting that this is more of a threat in the House, because its members are more beholden to Trump.

Trump himself has been all over the place on the topic. Sometimes he attacks the idea of sending aid. Other times he takes credit for sending aid that Ukraine has used successfully against Russia. But his admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin seems undimmed.

“Trump always talks out of both sides of his mouth,” Murphy said. “But his lieutenants in charge of disseminating the message online are kicking the crap out of Ukraine aid.”

That a GOP House might cut off aid is not a fear confined to Murphy. The publication Defense News recently reported that senior members of the House GOP leadership won’t commit to keeping aid flowing if Republicans take control of the House.

The House does seem like the more plausible future obstacle. Republicans are more likely to win the lower chamber, and the House is where more tacit (or even overt) sympathizing with Putin and Russia is concentrated.

Much GOP rhetoric on this is couched in fiscal terms, saying we shouldn’t spend so much on Ukraine when needs are unmet at home. Traditional conservative groups such as Heritage Action for America have urged Republicans to vote against Ukraine aid packages, and 57 Republicans in the House voted no in May on a $40 billion aid package.

But some of the most direct pledges to cut off aid come from far-right Trumpists such as Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who are forthright about their sympathies. As Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.) once said, “Ukraine is not our ally. Russia is not our enemy.”

“The MAGA wing of the party, which is the dominant wing, says and thinks a lot of nice things about Putin,” Murphy said to us.

If Republicans found themselves in a position to actually cut off aid, pressure to do so from the conservative media might increase. After all, in addition to everything else, a cutoff would be a defeat for the Biden administration.

The pro-Putin sentiment is already there. Tucker Carlson, the highest-rated host on cable TV, has so enthusiastically offered pro-Russian spin that his segments frequently re-air on Russian state TV. He declared just three weeks ago: “By any actual reality-based measure, Vladimir Putin is not losing the war in Ukraine. He is winning the war in Ukraine.”

All this raises the question of whether the Trumpist nationalist takeover of much of the GOP will create a kind of expanded Putinist axis in the House. As political scientist Francis Fukuyama recently noted, Western democracies are seeing the development of domestic political movements that sync up globally with what you might call a growing right wing authoritarian Internationale.

This Internationale, as Fukuyama observed, is aligned to one degree or another with leaders such as Viktor Orban in Hungary, Éric Zemmour and Marine Le Pen in France and Putin in Russia. And of course there’s Trump.

It’s widely expected that the block of Republicans loyal to MAGA in the House will grow. And if that translates into opposition to future funding of the Ukraine conflict, the MAGA bloc’s influence could end up having real geopolitical consequences.

“The Ukrainians are making serious progress and are likely to continue to make progress into next year,” Murphy told us. “If Republicans win the House, and word starts to leak out that they’re done funding Ukraine, that has potentially catastrophic impacts on Ukrainian morale and their ability to carry the fight.”