Senate Republicans rebuked Florida Governor Ron DeSantis Tuesday for saying that continuing to aid Ukraine to fight off the Russian invasion was not in the United States’ “vital national interests.”
The Republican Party has grown more divided in recent months over how long the U.S. should continue to send aid to Kyiv—and how much it should send. DeSantis, who is rumored to be considering a presidential run in 2024, made clear on which side of the debate he stands.
“While the U.S. has many vital national interests…becoming further entangled in a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia is not one of them,” DeSantis said in response to a questionnaire from Fox News host Tucker Carlson Monday night.
Several prominent members of the Senate GOP were quick to condemn DeSantis’s remarks. Fellow Floridian Marco Rubio, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, argued that the U.S. does “have an interest” in assisting Ukraine because it provides another opportunity to be tougher on China.
“Well, it’s not a territorial dispute in the sense that any more than it would be a territorial dispute if the United States decided that it wanted to invade Canada or take over the Bahamas,” Rubio told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt on Tuesday. “Just because someone claims something doesn’t mean it belongs to them.”
“I don’t know what he’s trying to do,” Rubio added. “Obviously, he doesn’t deal with foreign policy every day as governor.”
Rubio has been outspoken about continuing aid for Ukraine, but he appeared to flag in December, saying constituents were likely wondering why the U.S. was “spending all this money on someone else’s war.” He also said it would be tough to continue getting all the votes necessary for the huge tranches of aid funds, implying that there could be a time limit on how much longer U.S. aid would continue.
Texas Senator John Cornyn said he was “disturbed” by DeSantis’s stance. “I hope he feels like he doesn’t need to take that Tucker Carlson line to be competitive in the primary,” Cornyn told reporters. “It’s important for us to continue to support Ukrainians for our own security.”
South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham didn’t mention DeSantis by name, but he was adamant on Twitter that “those who believe that Russia’s unprovoked and barbaric invasion of Ukraine is not a priority for the United States… are missing a lot.”
Both Cornyn and Graham have been unwavering in their support for continuing Ukraine aid. Graham was one of three senators (and the only Republican in the group) who visited Ukraine in January, during which the South Carolina lawmaker urged the U.S. to send tanks to Kyiv.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell also supports continued aid for Ukraine, one of the few things on which he and his Democratic counterpart Chuck Schumer agree.
Presidential candidate Nikki Haley slammed DeSantis and said he was “copying” Donald Trump. Haley, who served as Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, noted that she had told Carlson aiding Ukraine was in U.S. interests.
But some Republicans, mostly in the House of Representatives, are beginning to lose patience with how much aid the U.S. is sending to Kyiv. Representative Matt Gaetz introduced the “Ukraine Fatigue Resolution” in February, which called to end all U.S. military and financial aid to Ukraine. The bill has 10 co-sponsors but is unlikely to pass, even though Speaker Kevin McCarthy has also called to cut back on aid.