Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., takes questions during a briefing following the weekly Senate Republican policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol on Feb. 28, 2023, in Washington, D.C.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., takes questions during a briefing following the weekly Senate Republican policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol on Feb. 28, 2023, in Washington, D.C. (Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images/TNS)

WASHINGTON (Tribune News Service) — Mitch McConnell returned from an overseas trip to Europe and the Middle East steeled in his conviction to plow more U.S. investment into defending Ukraine, at a moment when the vocal populist wing of the Republican Party is calling an open-ended commitment unacceptable.

“More must be done across the alliance to rebuild our defense capacity and give Ukraine the weapons they need to defeat Russia’s aggression,” McConnell said on the Senate floor Monday afternoon following last week’s voyage to Germany

McConnell’s more hawkish position aligns him with President Joe Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer but places him at odds with the two men considered most likely to carry the GOP banner in 2024, former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Still, the Senate GOP leader told the Munich Security Conference that GOP leaders still overwhelmingly support Ukraine’s battle against Russia. “Don’t look at Twitter, look at the people in power,” he instructed.

Nonetheless, McConnell’s home state colleague, Rand Paul, blasted an email to supporters on Sunday linking neoconservatives with Democrats as responsible for getting the U.S. “involved in never-ending wars accompanied by a blank check signed by taxpayers.”

“It’s time for us to STOP sending aid to countries like Ukraine and instead focus our efforts helping Americans here at home,” wrote Paul, a long-time anti-interventionist.

Rep. James Comer, who leads the House Oversight Committee, wants an itemized receipt of America’s tab. He’s requested the Defense Department, State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development document exactly how they’ve spent the $113 billion allocated by the U.S. government.

“Providing security and humanitarian assistance for warfighting and reconstruction purposes comes with an inherent risk of fraud, waste, and abuse,” Comer wrote in a letter joined by his GOP colleagues on the committee.

While Congress has greenlit more than $100 billion for Ukraine, less than a third of it – about $32 billion – has been spent, according to reports.

But as the Russian invasion of Ukraine enters its second year and with Congress back in session this week, scrutiny of U.S. involvement is peaking.

Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz has authored a “Ukraine fatigue” resolution that calls for ending all aid to Kyiv, which has netted 10 Republican co-sponsors, including Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie.

It has little chance of passing but it’s meant to amplify the creeping public skepticism of a war far from the daily concerns of most Americans, still grappling with inflation, health care accessibility and homegrown catastrophes like the trail derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.

A Pew poll showed only a quarter of Americans said America is spending too much in Ukraine, but that is an increase of 6 points since September. A separate AP survey found that just 48% of voters support continued Ukrainian assistance, down from 60% from last May.

“Instead of sending help to Ohioans, Congress is funneling money to Ukraine,” Paul wrote in another email blast to supporters Tuesday. “Congress has literally prioritized a war in Ukraine over helping their fellow Americans in immediate need.”

Republican Rep. Bob Good of Virginia told McClatchy Tuesday he was not comfortable with the burden the U.S. is carrying compared to Europe’s.

“I haven’t seen what our plan is, what our exit strategy is, what the ultimate resolution is from the United States, what the ultimate limit is of the United States’ involvement,” Good said. “None of that’s really been spelled out or conveyed, so no I’m not comfortable with what we’re doing with Ukraine.”

Outside voices are also beginning to target McConnell’s dogged commitment.

“McConnell was on TV saying that the No. 1 priority of the United States right now is defeating Russia in Ukraine. It’s not helping the people of Ohio, it is not securing the border, it is not solving crime in our cities. It is not making our schools better. It’s running off and basically supporting this war in Ukraine,” said David Sachs, a conservative venture capital investor on the popular “All In” business podcast. “These octogenarians – Biden and McConnell both – they either don’t know, don’t show or they don’t care what is happening in the United States of America.”

On Tuesday, the House Armed Services Committee held a hearing on the war just as Ukrainian officials have asked the U.S. to supply them with fighter jets and longer-range missiles.

In this instance, it was a Democrat who pumped the breaks on a specific resource escalation.

Rep. Adam Smith, the committee’s top Democrat, said that giving Ukraine F-16s is currently “not a wise use of resources.”

“It means we don’t just send everything that people ask for in the blink of an eye without even thinking about it, OK,” said Smith. “Best case scenario we could maybe get some operational F-16s into Ukraine within a year, maybe eight months if we really pushed it … We thought about it and reached a very intelligent conclusion that this is not the right system.”

©2023 McClatchy Washington Bureau.

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