GOP senators push back on Ron DeSantis over Ukraine

Washington — Republican senators on Wednesday pushed back on comments made by Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida declaring that the United States’ continued support for Ukraine as it defends itself against Russia is not a “vital” national interest.

“It’s a misunderstanding of the situation,” Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told reporters on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. “This is not a territorial conflict, it’s a war of aggression.”

“To say it doesn’t matter is to say war crimes don’t matter,” Graham added. 

DeSantis, who is widely expected to run for president in 2024, made the comments on Monday in response to a questionnaire from Fox News host Tucker Carlson. Carlson sent out questionnaires to potential Republican presidential candidates about the war in Ukraine. 

“While the U.S. has many vital national interests — securing our borders, addressing the crisis of readiness within our military, achieving energy security and independence, and checking the economic, cultural, and military power of the Chinese Community Party — becoming further entangled in a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia is not one of them,” DeSantis’ statement said. 

Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina said he disagreed with DeSantis. 

“I think that we have to look bigger than just a conflict in Ukraine,” Tillis said. “There’s a humanitarian crisis. There are war crimes being committed.”

Sen. John Thune of South Dakota said he also had a “different view” than DeSantis. 

“I would argue, and I think the majority of people in this country recognize how important it is, that Ukraine repel Russia,” Thune said. 

Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana said he hadn’t seen DeSantis’ remarks, but declared, “We need to stop Putin.” 

Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota said the perspective was a “concern,” but added that access to classified briefings could change things. “There’s going to be an educational process,” he said. “Any one of the individuals who has an interest in working as the next president of the United States really needs to get a full briefing before they decide to make up their minds on this particular issue.”

DeSantis’ stance aligns him with former President Donald Trump and puts him at odds with other top Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has said he is supportive of continued military and financial aid to Ukraine. 

When asked if the governor’s viewpoint could become a dominant narrative with Republican presidential candidates, Tillis said, “It could be, and it’s not one that I’m buying.” 

Aaron Navarro contributed to this report. 

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