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More than two dozen Senate Republicans demand Biden do more for Ukraine after voting against $13.6 billion for Ukraine

Thirty-one Senate Republicans voted last week against the $1.5 trillion spending bill to fund the government, increase U.S. defense spending and provide humanitarian and military assistance to Ukraine. In recent days, many of them have clamored for more weapons and aid.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made a virtual speech before Congress on March 16. (Video: Allie Caren/The Washington Post)

More than two dozen Senate Republicans are demanding that President Biden do more to aid war-torn Ukraine and arm its forces against Russia’s brutal assault, after voting last week against $13.6 billion in military and humanitarian assistance for Ukraine.

Consider Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who heard Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s emotional plea in a virtual address to Congress on Wednesday for more weapons and a no-fly zone over Ukraine.

“President Biden needs to make a decision TODAY: either give Ukraine access to the planes and antiaircraft defense systems it needs to defend itself, or enforce a no-fly zone to close Ukrainian skies to Russian attacks,” Scott said in a statement. “If President Biden does not do this NOW, President Biden will show himself to be absolutely heartless and ignorant of the deaths of innocent Ukrainian children and families.”

Last week, Scott was one of 31 Republicans to vote against a sweeping, $1.5 trillion spending bill to fund government agencies and departments through the remainder of the fiscal year, a bill that also included $13.6 billion in assistance for Ukraine. Biden signed the bill into law Tuesday, saying the United States was “moving urgently to further augment the support to the brave people of Ukraine as they defend their country.”

After casting a “no” vote, Scott assailed the overall spending bill as wasteful, arguing that it was filled with lawmakers’ pet projects. “It makes my blood boil,” Scott said last week.

Democrats quickly condemned what they saw as glaring hypocrisy among the Republicans who voted against the aid but were quick to criticize Biden as a commander in chief leading from behind in addressing Ukraine’s needs.

“‘We should send more lethal aid to Ukraine which I voted against last week’ is making my brain melt,” tweeted Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii).

In a speech to Congress on March 16, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky again asked for a no-fly zone to protect against Russia’s attacks. (Video: Drea Cornejo/The Washington Post)

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has highlighted divisions in the Republican Party on U.S. involvement overseas and the standing of the NATO alliance. For decades, during the presidencies of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, the GOP embraced a hawkish view, with robust military spending and certainty about coming to the aid of allies.

President Donald Trump’s “America First” outlook and efforts to undermine NATO, including questioning why the military alliance even existed, secured a foothold in the GOP, reflected in the response of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) to Ukraine. In a video Wednesday, Greene blamed both Russia and Ukraine, and warned against U.S. intervention. Biden has said repeatedly that he would not send U.S. troops to fight.

Potential 2024 presidential candidates such as Scott have been highly critical of Biden, who also announced Wednesday that the Pentagon was sending nearly $1 billion in military equipment to Ukraine, including 800 Stinger antiaircraft systems, 100 drones, 25,000 helmets and more than 20 million rounds of small-arms ammunition and grenade launcher and mortar rounds.

In early February, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), another possible White House candidate, sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken suggesting that the United States would be worse off if Ukraine were admitted to NATO, the military alliance of 30 mainly Western countries — including the United States — bound by a mutual defense treaty, and argued that the United States should instead focus on countering China.

Hawley, who voted against the spending bill with billions for Ukraine, said Wednesday that Biden needs to “step up” and send MiG jet fighters and other weapons to Ukraine, accusing the administration of “dragging its feet.”

The Pentagon has rebuffed Poland’s offer to send MiG fighter jets to Ukraine amid fears of further escalation involving a NATO country.

In a statement Thursday, Hawley said, “Aid for Ukraine should not be held hostage to the Democrats’ pet projects and I did not support the massive $1.5 trillion omnibus spending bill stuffed with billions in earmarks.”

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee who also voted against the spending bill, told MSNBC on Thursday that the United States “can do more” for Ukraine.

“There were all sorts of particular ways where the administration yesterday said a lot of the right things, but just because the pen was in President Biden’s hand yesterday doesn’t mean that weapons are in Zelensky’s hands today. And at every point we’re too slow, and it feels like a huge part of the administration’s audience is internal lawyers, and they do these offensive and defensive legal-hairsplitting arguments,” Sasse said.

On the Senate floor Thursday, Sasse argued that the spending bill wasn’t “really about Ukrainian aid,” but a “whole bunch of schlock.”

“Ukrainian aid was a little bit of sugar on the larger medicine of a $1.5 trillion bill that nobody would actually want to go home and to defend to the voters, and to the taxpayers of America, as well thought out,” he said.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) countered that the only way to deliver aid to Ukraine and massive legislation is through compromise.

“Inside every piece of legislation are elements that many of us disagree with,” Murphy said. “Inside that budget that you voted against are all sorts of things that I disagree with. But in the end, in order to govern the country, you have to be able to find a path to compromise.”

Schatz, in an interview with The Washington Post after the exchange between Sasse and Murphy, said the vote in favor of the aid was an “easy” one.

“It’s very simple: If you don’t vote for the thing, you’re not for the thing,” Schatz said. “That is literally our job, to decide whether we are for or against things as a binary question.”

“So you don’t get to say: ‘Even though I voted against Ukraine aid, that I’m actually for it, and here’s my explanation,’” Schatz added, arguing that Republicans were trying to have it both ways by maintaining their fidelity to Trump — who has praised Russian President Vladimir Putin — and become “Zelensky fans” at the same time.

“They voted to exonerate Trump for this specific reason, which was to withhold aid from Zelensky, and here they are again, opposing aid to Zelensky,” Schatz said. “So now they’re doing it twice. They’re still acting as if they’re defenders of Western-style democracy.”

The day before voting against the bill, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), another possible presidential candidate, posted on Twitter about the need to come to Ukraine’s aid. “Helping Ukraine defend itself against a ruthless dictator is in our best interest,” he tweeted.

Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) tweeted a clip declaring the importance of assisting Ukraine. “It’s not much of a deterrent when the assistance you provide comes after the invasion,” he wrote. “We need to have President Zelensky’s back and expedite aid to Ukraine.”

Hours later, Cramer voted against the spending bill.

Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.) tweeted a clip the day he voted against the bill of him speaking to the need to give Ukraine more aircraft.

“The Ukrainian people and President Zelensky are fighting well above their weight, but they need planes,” he said on Fox News. “He made that very clear to us on the phone Saturday.”

“Give the man his planes,” Kennedy added.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), the GOP’s 2012 presidential nominee, was widely mocked when he called Russia the “number one geopolitical foe” during a debate with President Barack Obama, a remark that in hindsight seems prescient.

Romney, like other Republicans, has pressed Biden to send more aid to Ukraine. He also voted against the spending bill with billions for the country.

Romney said that while he “strongly” supports providing aid to Ukrainians, he “ultimately could not support the rest of this bloated spending bill for the aforementioned reasons.”

“Forcing us to swallow the bad to get the good is concerning, unsustainable, and no way to govern over the long term,” he said.

In a statement to The Post Thursday, Romney added that he has “and will strongly support aid for Ukraine” and that he “called for a stand-alone bill to get a vote on Monday, four days sooner than the omnibus did.”

Romney and Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) are separately leading an effort with 40 of their Senate GOP colleagues to urge Biden to work with Poland and other NATO allies to expedite the transfer of aircraft and air-defense systems to Ukraine. Of those 40 Republicans, 25 voted against the aid package.

Lawmakers called for increasing military aid from the United States to Ukraine after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke to Congress on March 16. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post)

While increasing domestic spending and keeping the government open, the sweeping spending bill also increased spending for the U.S. military by 5.6 percent, totaling $762 billion. The bill includes a 2.7 percent pay increase for all active-duty troops.

Several Republicans were critical of Ukraine in 2017, when Trump began spreading a conspiracy theory that it was Ukraine — and not Russia — that interfered with the 2016 election. Two years later, Democrats accused Trump of leveraging military assistance and an Oval Office meeting with Zelensky in exchange for investigations of Biden and his son Hunter Biden, and the debunked theory alleging Ukrainian interference in the election.

The House impeached Trump; the Senate acquitted him on charges that he abused the powers of his office and obstructed Congress. All the Senate Republicans except Romney voted for acquittal.

Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) told The Post on Thursday that Republican lawmakers arguing for more aid for Ukraine days after voting against a bill to provide assistance is “the height of hypocrisy.”

“Some of them will find every way they can to criticize Joe Biden,” Hirono said. “And I think it’s more than ironic that the president that they continue to support withheld aid to Ukraine for political purposes.”

As several of these Republicans who voted against the bill criticized Biden, one Republican pointed to the disconnect.

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who voted for the bill, advised his party to stop sending “mixed messages” and lamented that the spending bill with nearly $14 billion for Ukraine didn’t pass the Senate 100-0, according to Politico.

And on Thursday, Zelensky’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, tweeted that the was “grateful” to the United States, which he described as Ukraine’s “reliable partner.”

“[Biden] does more for [Ukraine] than any of his predecessors,” Yermak tweeted.

Tony Romm contributed to this report.