Republicans on Russia Crisis: It’s Biden’s Fault, Just Don’t Ask Us to Agree on How to Fix It

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The GOP wasted no time faulting Joe Biden for Vladimir Putin’s aggression in Ukraine, suggesting the president’s “weakness” allowed the Russian strongman to launch his invasion. But when it comes to their own response to the incursion, Republicans are not quite as united.

Some GOP lawmakers, including Senator Lindsey Graham, have demanded a more hawkish approach from the Biden administration. Graham and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, representing a more traditional Republican foreign policy perspective, are pushing for stronger sanctions and dinging Biden for not taking a strong enough stand for Ukraine. “He’s walking all over you,” Graham told reporters Tuesday, criticizing Biden for playing “footsie” with Putin.

Then there’s the sect of the party representing the more isolationist tendencies of Donald Trump, which includes Senator Josh Hawley, who have bashed Biden for getting too involved in a crisis beyond America’s borders: “Sending new troops, expanding the security commitment, and expanding NATO — I just think that’s a strategic mistake,” Hawley told Politico.

And finally, there’s the faction on the right that has followed Trump’s lead by apparently siding with Russia and what he called its “genius” dictator: “They’re gonna keep the peace alright,” the former president said in a right-wing podcast interview of the military forces Putin sent into contested regions of eastern Ukraine this week. “Here’s a guy who’s very savvy.” To be sure, most of the Republican caucus has not echoed Trump’s comments, though some noteworthy figures on the right—former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Tucker Carlson among them—certainly have.

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The divide underscores the broader foreign policy fissure within the Republican party, which for most of the 21st century had been defined by the interventionism of the Bush administration and then was upended by Trump’s populist “America First” approach to world affairs—a doctrine promoted by the right-wing Senate candidate J.D. Vance, among others, in recent days. “The Russia-Ukraine border dispute has nothing to do with our national security,” Vance wrote of the crisis. “No American interest is served by our intervention,” he continued. “The obsession with Ukraine from our idiot leaders serves no function except to distract us from our actual problems.”

Nonetheless, the Graham wing appears to be holding more political weight: “I think the vast majority of our conference is in the ‘don’t let Putin get away with it’ camp,” the South Carolina Republican told Politico, as he and other lawmakers on both sides of the aisle began discussing a legislative response to Russia. Such a package, which would include support for Ukraine and penalties against Putin, could pass when Congress returns from the President’s Day recess, as Graham said in a news conference Tuesday: “I want a sanctions regime from hell next week.”

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