Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) showcased his steadfast support for Ukraine over the weekend, making a surprise visit to Kyiv while advocating Congress's bipartisan $40 billion aid bill and suggesting President Joe Biden designate Russia a state sponsor of terror.
McConnell secretly traveled alongside three other GOP senators to Ukraine's capital city, where the group met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky before embarking for Stockholm, Sweden, on Saturday. The highest-ranking elected Republican, joined by Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX), John Barrasso (R-WY), and Susan Collins (R-ME), will then travel to Helsinki, Finland. McConnell is meeting with the Nordic leaders about NATO membership, something both Sweden and Finland have expressed interest in since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February.
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McConnell addressed dissent from prominent members of his own party to the $40 billion Ukraine aid bill while speaking to reporters on a call from Stockholm on Sunday, saying it had "broad" bipartisan support, including from "an overwhelming majority of Republicans."
"What I assured [Zelensky], as this is an all-Republican delegation, is that support for Ukraine and this war against the Russians is bipartisan," he explained. "This naked aggression must not stand. I wanted to assure them that in the Congress, there was very, very broad support."
As for Republicans who have a problem with the spending deal, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), McConnell noted that "isolationist voices" had always existed in his party. He said, however, that his Kentucky colleague and other Republicans would not prevent the bill from passing.
“Well, it’s no secret. Rand and I have a different worldview of the importance of Americans’ role around the world," the GOP leader said on the Sunday call. "So that was not surprising, and it won’t create a problem. We’ll get the job done by Wednesday."
A growing chorus of prominent Republicans had argued that the $40 billion being sent to Ukraine through this latest proposal would be better spent domestically. Asked about this, McConnell rejected the notion that the spending meant needs had to be rejected at home.
“I’m prepared to spend what it takes to secure the border,” he continued. “It’s not an either-or proposition. There have always been isolationist voices in the Republican Party, even prior to World War II. That’s perfectly all right. This is a debate worth having — it’s an important subject. I think the lessons we learned during World War II is not standing up to aggression early is a huge mistake.”
Paul said he had opposed the bill in question in part because he wanted language added that would allow an inspector general to scrutinize the new spending, something McConnell said was fixed in prior legislation.
"It's a good idea. We've already done it," the top Senate Republican said.
McConnell also rejected the premise that the spending was fiscally irresponsible, arguing that it was in the best interest of the United States and NATO countries to stop Russian President Vladimir Putin from expanding his military goals further West.
“It's important to point out to our colleagues and to the American people it’s in America’s interest to do this,” he noted. “This is not charity we’re involved in here. This is in our interest to help the Ukrainians, just like it’s in the interest of the NATO countries. This is not some handout. This is to prevent this ruthless thug from beginning a march through Europe. The first place to stop him is in Ukraine, and that’s what we’re determined to do.”
At another point on the call, McConnell called on Biden to designate Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism as a result of its brutal military invasion, saying, "The president could do it on his own, and I would urge him to do it."
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Asked about the possibility of Finland and Sweden joining NATO, McConnell said he believed the U.S. should be "first in line" to ratify the countries' applications, arguing that they could be productive members of the 30-state military alliance.
“One of the good things to come out of this invasion is two new countries have indicated their interest in joining NATO,” he explained. “It’s important to understand they have very capable militaries. Some of the existing NATO countries don’t hit the 2% GDP and don’t have military operations, but these two countries do. So they will be important additions to NATO if they choose to join. I think the United States ought to be first in line to ratify the treaty for both these countries to join.”