July 23, 2023 at 1:40 p.m.

Brian Howey: Hoosier Republicans Splinter Over Support for Ukraine

By Brian Howey

In past generations, it was the accumulation of American body bags that forged domestic anti-war efforts.

Last week, Indiana U.S. Reps. Jim Banks and Erin Houchin joined 68 fellow Republicans in voting to end U.S. military aid to Ukraine during debate on the FY23 National Defense Authorization Act.

“Notwithstanding any provision of this or any other Act, no federal funds may be made available to provide security assistance to Ukraine,” read the one-sentence amendment. It was defeated by a 358-70 margin, with all Democrats and a majority of Republicans (including U.S. Reps. Jim Baird, Larry Bucshon, Greg Pence, Victoria Spartz and Rudy Yakym) opposing the measure.

“My amendment is going to lose overwhelmingly when it is put up for a vote,” said U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, the Florida Republican who authored the amendment. “But the American people will see who wants to represent them, and who wants to represent Crimea.”

Banks and Houchin say that they are motivated by fiscal concerns rather than the slaughter of Ukrainian civilians.

Banks, the probable Republican U.S. Senate nominee in 2024 from Columbia City, said in a statement to Howey Politics/State Affairs Indiana, “President Biden, the weakest commander-in-chief ever, embarrassed our country in Afghanistan and has since reduced our critical munition stockpiles to dangerously low levels. We cannot lead abroad while we are so weak at home.”

Houchin, a freshman from Salem, said, “We cannot continue down this path of tens of billions of dollars being spent in Ukraine with no accounting of where the money is going and no plan for a resolution. I heard resoundingly from my district prior to the vote, and I share my constituents’ concerns. My votes on these amendments to the NDAA reflect the views of the majority of 9th District Hoosiers."

Banks voted against a $40 billion Ukraine aid package in May 2022. He told WOWO’s Pat Miller after that vote, “I’ve heard from our listeners from Northeast Indiana loud and clear. They’re saying, ’Enough is enough. We can’t give a blank check to Ukraine without solving problems at home first.’ I’ve always said America can’t lead around the world when we’re so weak at home.

U.S. Sen. Mike Braun said in May 2022, “Ukrainians are amazing. We were slow to help them out of the gate. But I’m going to always ask a question: How are we paying for it? And when I found out we’re borrowing every penny of it, and we’re not offsetting anything, that turned it into a no vote for me.”

Other Hoosier Republicans are backing Kyiv.

U.S. Sen. Todd Young, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has insisted from the beginning of the war that the United States must back Ukraine. “Vladimir Putin is attacking the democratic, rules-based order that has benefitted countless Americans and millions around the globe since World War II,” Young said on Feb. 24, 2022. “The stakes extend beyond Europe, as China is watching us and clearly has the same ambitions for Taiwan. It is essential that America sends an unequivocal message: invading sovereign, democratic nations will never be tolerated.”

Former Vice President Mike Pence has also consistently advocated for supporting Ukraine. He told Fox59 last weekend, “The war in Ukraine is not a territorial dispute. It was a Russian invasion by Vladimir Putin. As the leader of the free world, it’s absolutely essential to provide the Ukrainian military what they need to repel the Russian invasion for this reason. I’m someone who believes in that old Reagan doctrine that if you’re willing to fight our enemies on your soil we’ll give you what you need to fight them there so men and women in uniform aren’t going to have to face them someday defending our interests and our allies."

Other congressional Republicans are supporting Ukraine. On Feb. 24, 2022, Rep. Bucshon said, “Russia’s actions are a savage violation of international law that have put countless innocent lives at risk. The United States and our allies must stand firm and protect the freedom and sovereignty of Ukraine, and Putin’s actions must be met with swift and severe consequences.”

Rep. Yakym told Ink Free News last October, “We cannot allow nations to bulldoze other nations.”

Rep. Pence said in a Feb. 24, 2022 statement, “Ukraine is an ally of the United States and I believe it is our duty to stand with our allies.”

And then there is Rep. Spartz, who began the period after the Russian invasion to rally Republicans to the cause of her native land. She then shocked both Republicans and Democrats with "intense criticisms" of President Zelensky a year ago. In July 2022, Politico reported: “Inside the House GOP Conference, there’s a widespread fear that her posture is damaging U.S.-Ukraine relations at the worst possible time — and that she’s being played by forces that aim to weaken the Western alliance."

Since then, Spartz flirted with a U.S. Senate candidacy, then announced she would not seek reelection. She has issued relatively few statements on Ukraine since then, as more and more Republicans peel away their support for the war effort.

** Brian Howey is senior writer and columnist for Howey Politics Indiana/State Affairs. Find him on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.