House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., criticized President Joe Biden for not arming Ukraine sooner despite repeatedly defending former President Donald Trump’s efforts to freeze military aid to the country in exchange for help with his re-election campaign.
McCarthy argued in an interview with Fox News that Russian President Vladimir Putin “probably” would not have invaded Ukraine if the administration acted sooner.
“This is going to get stronger and rougher, and what really needs to happen is Ukraine is not asking for American men and women to fight. All they’re asking for is the weapons to defend themselves,” he said. “If we would have taken those actions earlier instead of waiting until after Russia invaded, they probably never would have invaded, had we done that sooner.”
Fox News correspondent Mike Emanuel noted that the Biden administration last week announced $800 million in additional military aid to Ukraine and has provided more than $2.5 billion in weapons and equipment to the country since February.
“Ukraine was craving the ability to defend themselves. Had we moved the weapons to Ukraine earlier, that they could defend themselves, it would have saved thousands of lives and probably the decision of Putin not to enter,” McCarthy said.
Despite bashing Biden over the release of the aid, McCarthy previously defended Trump during his first impeachment proceedings over the former president’s attempt to hold military aid to Ukraine hostage until Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy assisted his re-election campaign.
Trump in 2019 withheld hundreds of millions in military aid to Ukraine while pressuring Zelenskyy to open a baseless investigation into Biden’s son Hunter, who sat on the board of the Ukrainian energy firm Burisma, ahead of their election matchup.
McCarthy fiercely opposed Trump’s impeachment and defended his decision to withhold aid as the correct move.
“These are taxpayer dollars going to another country that people believed there was corruption with a new administration,” he said in 2020. “I think it was the rightful thing to do.”
Many other prominent Republicans who defended Trump’s actions in Ukraine have been critical of Biden’s response to the war but numerous Russia experts have argued that Trump’s pressure on Ukraine and appeasement of Putin may have emboldened the Kremlin.
It sent “a message to Putin that Ukraine is a plaything for him … and for the United States. And that nobody’s really serious about protecting Ukraine,” Fiona Hill, a former Russia expert on the National Security Council who testified during Trump’s first impeachment, said last month. “And that was ultimately a sign of weakness.”
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Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and fellow impeachment witness, came to a similar conclusion.
Trump “came to see Ukraine as a weaker country, not as deserving of much attention,” she told Vanity Fair. “And when he did put his attention on it, he saw Ukraine as a pawn that could be bullied into doing his bidding. I think that made a huge impact on Zelenskyy and I think that Putin and other bad actors around the world saw that our president was acting in his own personal interests. He was using his office for his personal interest rather than to work in the interest of the American people, in our national security interest, because it wasn’t in our interest. It was our policy to help Ukrainians defend themselves. I think the other thing that Putin saw in Donald Trump’s administration was Trump’s negativity toward NATO and his actions toward other NATO countries.”
The anti-NATO sentiment appears to have remained among some Trump loyalists in the Republican Party. Earlier this month, 63 House Republicans, more than 30% of the entire GOP caucus, voted against a symbolic resolution reaffirming support for NATO amid Russia’s invasion.
McCarthy on Sunday dodged questions about the members of his party that opposed the resolution.
“There’s strong support for NATO moving forward. Always has been,” McCarthy claimed. “NATO is in the process of defending themselves but the one thing we need to make sure is NATO countries spend the money — more than 2%. This affects everybody and that’s why we should stand up for Ukraine and provide them the weapons to defend themselves where Putin cannot continue to do these atrocities.”
Trump, of course, had a very antagonistic relationship with NATO and in 2018 privately discussed withdrawing from the alliance entirely, according to The New York Times. And after Trump won the Republican nomination in 2016, Trump’s campaign stripped language supporting “lethal defensive weapons” for Ukraine from the official Republican Party platform.
Though Trump and Republican lawmakers have argued that Putin would not have invaded Ukraine if he was still in office, former Trump administration foreign policy officials have a very different view.
“I’m not sure he would have done much of anything, frankly,” if Putin invaded Ukraine, former national security adviser John Bolton told Vice News last month. “But you never know with Trump. It depends on what time of day it is, it depends on what he thought his political benefit would be at any given moment. I don’t think ultimately he would have stood in Putin’s way.”