Experts: Turner and Vance difference over Ukraine funding marks sharp Republican Party divide

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

While U.S. Sen. J.D. Vance made national headlines as one of the Senate’s most vocal critics of continued funding for Ukraine’s fight against Russia’s invasion, Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, met with Ukraine’s president and pledged full support for Ukraine.

The contrast between local Ohio Republicans on the national and international stage illustrates a sharp divide between the establishment wing of the party and the populist and isolationist camps, local political experts said.

“I think that all of this reflects pretty deep divisions within the Republican Party itself. You know the party of Reagan was certainly a party that believed in American values, pursuing those values abroad and defending them abroad and aiding countries that were defending their own borders against aggression,” said Mark Caleb Smith, director of the Cedarville University Center for Political Studies.

“But the Republican Party’s changed pretty dramatically, and I think the foreign policy is one of the areas where you see it the most strongly. I think it’s probably safe to say that J.D. Vance is a product of that new party,” Smith said. “I think Turner is sort of still the remnants of the older approach to foreign policy of the Republican Party.”

Much of the change has been led by former President Donald Trump, who has remade the party since he won the presidency in 2016, Smith said. Trump is the front-runner in the Republican primary race for president this year. He’s spoken out against funding for Ukraine, criticized NATO and earlier this month at a South Carolina rally said he told a NATO ally he would encourage Russia do “to do whatever the hell they want” to countries that didn’t contribute enough money to security, the Associated Press reported.

Credit: Scott Huck

Credit: Scott Huck

But Smith said the change also is driven by conservatives who feel “engaged in a war against liberalism or progressivism or wokism.”

“For some elements of the right they see more in common with Vladimir Putin and with (Hungarian President) Viktor Orban than they see in common with (President) Joe Biden or (U.S. Rep.) Nancy Pelosi,” Smith said. “They see people like Putin as being on their side.”

In addition to Smith, experts interviewed by this newspaper include Vaughn Shannon and Lee Hannah, both professors of political science at Wright State University, and Jaro Bilocerkowycz, associate professor of political science at the University of Dayton.

All agreed that the GOP has fractured over foreign policy. Even those Republicans who support a more traditional brand of involvement in world affairs may be afraid to speak up, or vote for Ukrainian aid, for fear of crossing Trump, said Shannon.

“And that is, for good or ill, the politics of this kind of Trump effect on the Republican side,” he said. “And it’s a tight vote in the House.”

Senate approves funding

On Feb. 13 the U.S. Senate approved a $95.3 billion national security package that faces an uncertain future in the U.S. House of Representatives, where Republicans are being pressured by Trump to reject it.

If House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-Louisiana, refuses to bring the bill to the floor Democrats could try a rare procedure called a “discharge petition” to force a vote, but that can’t happen without some Republican votes, Hannah said.

“Turner is one of 435 and it seems like right now Johnson and the Freedom Caucus are where the power resides,” Hannah said.

The Senate bill was approved 70-29, with 22 Republican senators voting with nearly all Democrats. It provides $60.1 billion in military and other aid to Ukraine; $14.1 billion in security assistance for Israel; $9.2 billion for humanitarian assistance in Gaza, the West Bank and other war zones; and $4.8 billion in funding to deter Chinese aggression and support partners in the Indo-Pacific, including Taiwan, according to a news release from U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee.

For Ohio, the bill includes investments in the Abrams tank plant in Lima, a nuclear submarine parts plant in Barberton and funding to advance an effort to enrich uranium in Piketon, according to a news release from U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.

The bill also includes Brown’s FEND Off Fentanyl Act, which imposes sanctions and anti-money laundering penalties targeting the illegal fentanyl supply chain.

“The bipartisan national security package is critical to taking on the biggest threats facing our country: China, the drug cartels bringing deadly fentanyl into this country, Vladimir Putin, and Iran and its terrorist proxy groups like Hamas,” Brown said in a statement to this newspaper. “The House must put politics aside and move quickly to support Israel and Ukraine, get humanitarian aid to Gaza, take on fentanyl traffickers, and stand up to China.”

Vance opposes Ukraine funding

Vance voted against the Senate bill and opposed a bipartisan immigration reform proposal that was originally attached to the national security bill, but failed to advance after Trump and many congressional Republicans came out against it as not strict enough. That failed border proposal would have limited the number of people entering the U.S. and had funding for improved border security, more help for the border patrol and addressing immigration court backlogs.

Vance opposes funding for Ukraine, arguing that Europe should take care of its own issues, that it is not in the U.S. interest to defend Ukraine and that the U.S. has its own problems that need funding, including securing the Mexican border, according to comments he made on the Senate floor last week.

“So our message to the Europeans needs to be simple: fix your own country, share your own burden, spend more on defense, fix your own problems,” Vance said.

He said the Ukraine funding bill would set up Trump for impeachment should he win the 2024 election, and then as president force Ukraine to negotiate peace with Russia and subsequently not spend all of the money allocated for Ukraine, according to comments released by his office on Feb. 12 that Vance made on Steve Bannon’s War Room podcast.

“There are some Republicans for whom Ukraine is the most important issue confronting the country,” Vance said in the podcast. “(Don’t) we have ten more important issues confronting this nation, between the border problem, the debt problem? Why are we so obsessed with this? It is a fetish, Steve.”

Turner supports Ukraine

Earlier this month Turner, chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, and a bipartisan group of congress members visited Ukraine and met with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

“(Turner) emphasized that the United States must continue to support Ukraine in its fight against Russian aggression,” according to a Feb. 9 news release from his office.

“(Support for Ukraine is) about upholding the principles of freedom, democracy, and the rule of law that underpin the Western world,” an issues page on the website says. “If Putin continues unchecked, he will not stop at Ukraine. Authoritarianism cannot win.”

On Feb. 14 Turner’s office released a statement that the intelligence committee had “made available to all Members of Congress information concerning a serious national security threat.” He requested that President Biden declassify all information related to the threat.

On Feb. 15 White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Russia is developing an antisatellite capability but there is no immediate threat to anyone’s safety, the Washington Post reported.

Although Turner made no mention of Russia in the statement he released, Hannah wondered if he “wanted to in a more dramatic way remind people about how dangerous Russia is.”

On Friday, after word that imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny had died Turner released a statement of condolence to his family and said, “Alexei Navalny had the courage to stand up to Vladimir Putin. He was wrongfully imprisoned and died in captivity.”

Supporters of funding Ukraine argue that Russian aggression must be stopped or Putin will invade other countries and it will signal to other authoritarian regimes that they can go after other countries as well, said Bilocerkowycz. He said it is notable that the countries supporting Russia — China, Iran and North Korea — are led by authoritarians.

“So it’s really the global democracies against global autocracy,” Bilocerkowycz said. “My view is it’s absolutely critical that the U.S., European and other democracies support Ukraine. Our interests are involved, our security is involved. How that particular conflict turns out will have decades-long consequences.”

Smith said he understands that people have concerns over the financial cost of helping Ukraine.

“But the amount of money is relatively insignificant and the strategic benefit of that money is massive. I think it’s critical, frankly, and I think I think right now along with Taiwan and Israel, they’re amongst the most critical issues on the globe,” Smith said. “I think it’s fair to say the Republican party is divided over one of the most important issues that we’ve seen in some time.”

Follow @LynnHulseyDDN on Facebook, Instagram and X.

About the Author