Democrats have begun talking about the importance of a Ukrainian victory over Russia amid questions about President Joe Biden’s leadership of the Western response to the Kremlin’s invasion.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) led a group of Democratic lawmakers on a surprise visit to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky over the weekend. "Our delegation traveled to Kyiv to send an unmistakable and resounding message to the entire world: America stands firmly with Ukraine," she said in a statement afterward.
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Pelosi also vowed the United States would support Ukraine “until victory is won.” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA), who was also on the trip, echoed Pelosi’s comments.
“The war in Ukraine is a struggle of freedom against tyranny,” Schiff tweeted. “And we must do our part to ensure Ukraine is victorious.”
“Nothing is going to decrease,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks (D-NY) said of aid to Ukraine. “Everything is going to increase.”
“It looked like one big campaign event to me,” said Republican strategist John Feehery. “It would have made a far more powerful statement had she brought a Republican with her. And this loose talk about victory is only escalating an already dangerous situation.”
The White House claimed Monday that Republicans had been invited but provided few details, citing security concerns.
Biden has long sought to walk a careful line in helping Ukraine fight back against Russia without drawing the U.S. or NATO allies into a wider war against the nuclear-armed power.
"This is not a proxy war,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters at Monday’s briefing. "This is a war between Russia and Ukraine. NATO is not involved, the U.S. is not fighting this war."
"We said we’d not send U.S. troops to fight Russian troops in Ukraine, but we would provide robust military assistance and try to unify the Western world against Russia’s aggression," Biden said last week as he announced he was asking Congress for $33 billion in additional assistance to Ukraine.
But even Democratic lawmakers have begun to question whether Biden is doing enough. Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), a close Biden ally currently filling the Senate seat the president held for 36 years, raised the prospect of U.S. troops last month.
“We are in a very dangerous moment where it is important that on a bipartisan and measured way, we in Congress and the administration come to a common position about when we are willing to go the next step and to send not just arms but troops to the aid in defense of Ukraine,” he said during an event with the University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy. “If the answer is 'never,' then we are inviting another level of escalation in brutality by [Russian President Vladimir] Putin.”
“Putin will only stop when we stop him,” Coons said. While the Democrat later clarified on Twitter that he was “not calling for U.S. troops to go into the war in Ukraine,” his comparison of the situation to Syria, which has degenerated into a prolonged conflict with a limited American role, was seen as an implicit criticism of Biden’s approach.
"We just respectfully disagree with his proposal," Psaki said at the time. "The president has no plans to send troops to fight a war with Russia. He doesn't think that's in our national security interests, in the interests of the American people."
At the same time, there is little public appetite for another war after Biden wound down America’s two decades in Afghanistan. It’s a political dilemma for the administration.
“The new ABC News/Washington Post poll indicates that Americans are greatly supportive of Ukraine but very concerned about the consequences of a direct military confrontation with Russia,” said Democratic strategist Brad Bannon. “This leads to mixed signals. Thirty-seven percent feel the U.S. is doing too little while 36% think we're doing about the right amount.”
Biden will visit an Alabama Lockheed Martin plant that manufactures anti-tank Javelin missiles that have proved important to Ukraine’s resistance to the Russian invasion. The stop on Tuesday is an attempt to project strength, highlight his administration’s support for Ukraine, and remind Americans that they benefit, too.
“Their hard work has played a critical role in ensuring Putin’s strategic failure in Ukraine, and they should know that we know it,” Biden said.
The president has also tried to sharpen his Ukraine rhetoric. “Russia is the aggressor. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. Russia is the aggressor,” he declared. “And the world must and will hold Russia accountable.”
“Putin's original intention was to wipe Ukraine off the face of the map, but that effort ended in victory for Ukraine and the United States and NATO and defeat for the deadly dictator,” Bannon said. “There's still a struggle to preserve Ukraine's territorial integrity, but the Biden administration's message reflects the reality that the fledgling democracy will survive.”
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Psaki told reporters Monday that there were currently no plans for Biden to visit Ukraine.