Calmes: A touching moment of the collective goal in Congress to support Ukraine

Even the seating in the Capitol auditorium reflected a rare bipartisanship.

Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who never discounted a policy point, sat between two Democrats, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer and Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy. The three men and hundreds of other members of Congress stared at a large screen Wednesday morning, transfixed by the live broadcast of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy pleading for more help from the United States.

When Zelenskyj made a heartbreaking impression Video – Views of beautiful Ukrainian cities before the invasion, followed by the aftermath of the Russian bombings and civilian casualties, including now iconic footage of a dying pregnant woman and a mother with her two children lying lifeless on a street – there were tears among the legislators and accordingly Maine Independent Senator Angus King, “a collective breath hold”.

Spotted portrait illustration of Jackie Calmes

opinion columnist

Jackie Calmes

Jackie Calmes takes a critical look at the national political scene. She has decades of experience reporting on the White House and Congress.

“Collective.” That’s not a word that usually describes something about Congress. Yet that, too, has been achieved by murderous Russian President Vladimir Putin through his unprovoked devastation of Ukraine: a bit of bipartisanship, certainly imperfect, among typically polarized Democrats and Republicans.

Zelensky, dressed in the olive-colored military T-shirt that has become his uniform, smartly reminded of the history of America, of Pearl Harbor and 9/11 when “innocent people were attacked, attacked from the air”. He added: “Our country has experienced the same thing every day for the past three weeks, now, at this moment, every night.”

However, as Zelensky probably knew, his emotional rhetoric would not get him everything he had asked for — neither US intervention to create a no-fly zone in Ukrainian skies nor, at least for now, America’s help in transferring planes from Poland to Ukraine’s pilots.

“Close the skies over Ukraine,” read the words on the screen as the haunting video ended. Yet President Biden and most lawmakers — Democrats and Republicans alike — reject US enforcement of a no-fly zone or direct US involvement in the provision of aircraft as provocations that nuclear-armed Putin could exploit to escalate the conflict into a third world war to expand.

Still, with bipartisan support, Ukraine is receiving unprecedented military and humanitarian aid to wage its fight, including anti-aircraft systems that many experts say can defend against bombs and missiles from Russia’s land-based weapons.

In a sort of orchestrated follow-up to Zelenskyi’s appeal, Biden announced an additional $800 million in support, including armed drones, 800 more anti-aircraft systems, 9,000 anti-tank weapons, and 7,000 additional small arms and ammunition. Biden promised more to come from that $13.6 billion package of the emergency aid, which he signed on Tuesday after it was passed by a bipartisan congress.

Separately on Tuesday, a unanimous Senate agreed to a decision Supporting an international criminal court’s investigation into Putin and his government for war crimes. While the international court has initiated this process, actually holding Putin accountable would be difficult. Still, the label of “war criminal”—and the shame and shunning it would bring to Putin—is no small matter.

That Washington has sided with Ukraine when little else has brought the political parties together is all the more remarkable given that the country has been at the mercy of the corrupt political machinations of Donald Trump and his allies in Congress and the right-wing media in recent years was disparaged.

Now, for the most part, these antagonists are being sidelined and muzzled — but not before Trump first called Putin a “genius” for his Ukraine aggression. A large majority of Americans supports current aid to Ukraine or wants more of it, and both lawmakers and the public support the punitive economic sanctions against Russia that Biden has orchestrated with US allies, even at the cost of American consumers.

That hasn’t stopped Republicans from blaming Biden for high gas prices, a real political drain on Democrats in a midterm election year. and They were quick to criticize the President so slow in sending aid; Rep. Kevin McCarthy told reporters Putin might have been deterred from an invasion if Biden had provided weapons sooner.

McCarthy’s criticism of Biden shortly after Zelensky’s speech was “disgusting,” as Senator Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat, said. tweeted. “Someone has to tell him who the real enemy is and stop making politics about defending freedom in Ukraine.”

After all, it was McCarthy, the Republican leader in the House of Representatives, who, along with Trump’s other flatterers in Congress, apologized in 2019 $250 million in aid withheld that Congress had approved for Ukraine. At the time, Putin was increasing his forces on the Russian-Ukrainian border and threatening an invasion. But Trump initially wanted Zelensky to soil Biden and Biden’s son, Hunter.

McCarthy and almost all other Republicans opposed Trump’s impeachment over this blackmail of Zelenskyy. They were also silent when Trump stood next to Putin and sided with the Russian dictator at their Helsinki summit in 2018 contrary to the assessment of the entire US secret service that Putin interfered in the 2016 election for Trump. Instead, many Republicans and right-wing pundits echoed Trump’s nonsensical claim that it was corrupt Ukraine that meddled in the 2016 election in favor of Hillary Clinton.

That McCarthy and other Republicans are now so eager to speed up aid to brave Ukrainians is a good thing. But if you want to criticize someone for not acting sooner to deter Putin, you should look in the mirror.

At the moment, however, bipartisanship is welcome – not least for the Ukrainians.

@jackiekcalmes Calmes: A touching moment of the collective goal in Congress to support Ukraine

Caroline Bleakley

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