The crisis in Ukraine has united most Republicans and Democrats in a rare moment of bipartisan agreement that the United States must stand strong against the aggression of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
But a small group within the Republican Party — heavily influenced by former President Donald Trump’s stance toward Russia — has criticized President Joe Biden for opposing Putin’s designs on Ukraine, with some going as far to say Russia has a right to invade. Some progressive Democrats in the House of Representatives have also warned there is no military solution to the crisis.
With memories of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and subsequent Taliban takeover still fresh in the minds of the American public, much of the concern on both the right and the left is focused on avoiding military involvement in Europe.
Biden has said multiple times the U.S. will not commit troops on the ground in Ukraine and will only provide military aid. Most Republican and Democratic lawmakers agree with the administration’s position that Ukraine’s fledgling democracy must be protected.
But conservative talk show host Tucker Carlson repeatedly has expressed doubt that Ukraine is a democracy worth U.S. protection.
“It should make you very nervous that Joe Biden, Susan Rice and the national security adviser kid, they're all telling us with a straight face … it's a democracy,” Carlson said this week on his show, referring to Biden adviser Jake Sullivan.
Republican Senator Josh Hawley — a frequent guest on Carlson’s show — expressed similar concerns in a February 1 letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, writing that the Biden administration’s support for Ukraine’s membership in NATO defies current geopolitical realities.
“The United States has an interest in maintaining Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity. And we should urgently deliver to Ukraine assistance it needs to defend itself against Russia’s military buildup and other threats. Our interest is not so strong, however, as to justify committing the United States to go to war with Russia over Ukraine’s fate. Rather, we must aid Ukraine in a manner that aligns with the American interests at stake and preserves our ability to deny Chinese hegemony in the Indo-Pacific,” Hawley wrote.
Members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus have been especially vocal about avoiding U.S. involvement in Ukraine.
“We have no dog in the Ukraine fight. Not one American soldier should die there. Not one American bullet should be fired there. We just lost Afghanistan to sandal-wearing goat herders. I assure you [the] Russian military is no joke either,” said Republican Congressman Paul Gosar.
“Ukraine has no basis to be in NATO, and NATO itself — a Cold War relic — arguably has no current purpose or mission. Getting involved in a military situation with no U.S. interest is America Last, not America First,” he said.
Recent polling shows a slight majority of Americans support the U.S. staying out of negotiations to end the crisis. In a CBS News/YouGov poll conducted between February 8 and 11, 53% of Americans supported that view, while 43% supported Ukraine and 4% supported Russia. In that same poll, about 20% of voters said Biden’s approach to Russia was “too hostile,” with Republicans and independents making up almost all of those holding that viewpoint.
Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger — a leading critic of Trump — told the CBS news show “Face the Nation” the pro-Putin group within his own party is not large but is still a significant concern.
“There's a significant number of folks doing it with Tucker Carlson, talking about, you know, how great Vladimir Putin is and how Ukraine is really actually part of Russia," Kinzinger said.
While no Democrats have expressed support for Putin in the way some Republicans have supported him, voices on the left are speaking out against U.S. involvement in the region.
“We have significant concerns that new troop deployments, sweeping and indiscriminate sanctions, and a flood of hundreds of millions of dollars in lethal weapons will only raise tensions and increase the chance of miscalculation. Russia’s strategy is to inflame tensions; the United States and NATO must not play into this strategy,” said Democratic Congresswomen Pramila Jayapal and Barbara Lee in a statement last month.
Senator Bernie Sanders’ foreign policy adviser Matt Duss has also been publicly vocal about the need to avoid accelerating the conflict with Russia, tweeting, “It's good news that Senate Dems were able to resist being lured onto an even more hawkish sanctions bill in the name of 'bipartisanship.’"
U.S. senators failed to reach an agreement this week on a bipartisan sanctions bill, choosing instead to release a rare statement of unity expressing support for Ukraine. Twelve Republican and Democratic senators encouraged unity among NATO allies, while warning Russia would face “significant costs” if it followed through with an invasion.