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EXCLUSIVE: Senate GOP Meeting Devolved Into ‘Embarrassing Exhortations’ for Ukraine Aid

The chaos at yesterday’s Senate Republican Conference meeting shows that making a deal may be even harder than it seems.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell

The Washington, D.C. winter has put relations even among clubby Senate Republicans on ice. Sources told The American Conservative that Wednesday’s Senate Republican Conference meeting devolved into “embarrassing exhortations” over the need to provide Ukraine with more aid against the will of GOP voters.

Both internally and externally, the current divide among the Republican Senate conference—those who want to defend America's border first versus those who would rather tend to Ukraine's border—is becoming untenable. Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota, according to a TAC source with direct knowledge of Wednesday’s meeting, opined that sometimes legislators must show their fiscally conservative constituents “tough love” by voting to spend more on Ukraine because they have a “moral obligation” to do so.

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Rounds was not alone.

Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas made an impassioned plea for the Senate GOP Conference to send billions more to Ukraine in order to “make the world safe for democracy,” the source told TAC. When it came time for Sen. Thom Tillis to speak, the senator from North Carolina blamed former President Donald Trump for what transpired during America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021.

By far, the most melodramatic display came from Sen. James Risch of Idaho, the Foreign Relations Committee chairman.

Sources told TAC that Risch played an bygone video of former Arizona Senator John McCain during his presentation to the conference and claimed the GOP conference should move forward with Ukraine aid because it is what the late McCain would have wanted. As once summarized by longtime McCain flak Mark Salter, in the Atlantic magazine: Ukraine was “a country whose independence [McCain] championed as if it were his own.”

Wednesday's hippodrome came on the heels of another unruly Senate Conference Meeting the day prior in which several GOP senators questioned whether McConnell was genuine about border security or simply saw the border as a means to secure more money for Ukraine.

This policy gulf in the GOP conference is causing Leader McConnell to rethink his strategy of linking further supplemental aid to Ukraine to the border and aid to other nations, says PunchBowl News. “When we started this, the border united us and Ukraine divided us,” McConnell reportedly said—which seems to confirm that, in McConnell’s mind, the border was playing second-fiddle to Ukraine aid.

Now? “The politics on this have changed,” McConnell said. “We’re in a quandary.”

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