House Republicans gave President Joe Biden a failing grade over his recent call with Russian President Vladimir Putin. “Because of Biden’s weakness, Russia is threatening to invade Ukraine any day,” the House GOP declared in a blog post on Wednesday.
That is really, really bold considering what Republicans were saying just two years ago. This is the same party that spent months defending then-President Donald Trump’s extortion of Ukraine in the face of overwhelming evidence that his schemes hurt Ukraine and benefited Russia. Now, with Russian troops massing on the border, they want me to believe that they suddenly care about keeping Ukraine safe. Honestly, the sheer cynical hypocrisy is enough to make me feel like I’m having a nervous breakdown.
This is the same party that spent months defending then-President Donald Trump’s extortion of Ukraine.
I spent the entirety of the first impeachment saga covering it daily, so a quick recap for you: Trump, gorged on conspiracy theories and self-serving lies, was convinced that Ukraine and not Russia had interfered in the 2016 election. He then leaned on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to open investigations into both those conspiracies and into Biden and his son Hunter, who had business interests in Ukraine, ahead of the 2020 election. As leverage, he froze $391 million of congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine and denied Zelenskyy a White House meeting.
When he got caught thanks to a whistleblower, Trump immediately insisted that he’d done nothing wrong during a July call with Zelenskyy — and almost the entirety of the GOP backed him up. Throughout weeks of testimony saying otherwise, through the Government Accountability Office concluding that Trump’s hold on aid broke the law, through the acknowledgement from Trump’s own former national security adviser that there was a quid pro quo at work, Republicans held together. Not a single Republican in the House voted for either article of impeachment. Only one in the Senate, Mitt Romney of Utah, voted to convict Trump in his trial, and then on only one of the two counts.
But now things are different: Biden is president. And that means that any partisan willingness to throw Kyiv under the bus to save Trump no longer applies. Instead, we have last month’s letter from the GOP members of the House Armed Services Committee urging Biden “to take immediate and swift action to provide support to Ukraine in the form of intelligence and weapons.”
Among the signatories, a few stand out to me. Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama, ahead of the impeachment vote stood on the House floor and called the proceedings "a sham, a witch hunt and … tantamount to a coup against the duly-elected president of the United States" Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska, during that same slew of speeches, insisted that everything Trump did was fine because the aid was eventually delivered, and the investigation Trump wanted was never carried out. Even Rep. Mike Turner of Ohio, the ranking member on Armed Services — who repeatedly said that Trump’s behavior toward Ukraine was “not OK” and “alarming” — voted against impeachment.
And then there’s Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York. Stefanik can probably credit her performance during the impeachment inquiry as Trump’s sharpest defender for her current gig as the chair of the Republican Conference. During the third hearing of the inquiry, she addressed the public directly, saying, “We are not just talking about President Trump focusing on anti-corruption in Ukraine, but it is so critical, so important that hard-earned taxpayer dollars, when given to foreign nations, that by law, overwhelmingly bipartisan support, requires anti-corruption in Ukraine in order to get U.S. taxpayer funded aid.”
The exact same person is in charge in Ukraine now as was in 2019. The only change is that now the person in the White House actually does care about fighting corruption.
The Defense Department, Stefanik did not note, had certified that Ukraine had met anti-corruption benchmarks to receive American aid before Trump ordered the freeze. She even scolded reporters for trying to note that to her in January 2020. The same administration is in place in Kyiv, which Stefanik is now insisting needs swift help from the United States. And as chair of the Republican Conference, it’s her name that appears just above Wednesday’s blog post attacking Biden for not doing enough to protect Ukraine.
Even worse is the gaslighting from Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who was moved onto the House Intelligence Committee ahead of the public hearings just so he could be on-camera defending Trump with his usual stream of high-volume nonsense. “We’re talking Ukraine . . . one of the three most corrupt countries on the planet,” Jordan yelled on the first day of the impeachment hearings. “Corruption is not just prevalent in Ukraine — it’s the system!”
On Wednesday, Jordan tweeted that “President Obama gave Ukraine blankets. President Trump gave Ukraine tank-busting Javelin missiles. President Biden waved at the camera.” Again, the exact same person is in charge in Ukraine now as was in 2019. The only change is that now the person in the White House actually does care about fighting corruption.
There are real questions about what the Biden administration is going to do in the face of potential Russian aggression against Ukraine. After this summer’s stumble in exiting Afghanistan, the administration is surely going to be worried about provoking more accusations of weakness from the GOP. Congress is rushing to add more funding to Ukraine's military aid package and Biden will speak on the phone with Zelenskyy on Thursday to discuss the U.S.'s stance.
But truly, the thought of having to sit through months of the same people who said Trump was right to screw over Ukraine now spending months calling Biden weak for not protecting Ukraine from Russia is almost too much for me to process.