Back from Ukraine, a House Republican argues for more aid

Knowing that a vote on another aid package for Ukraine loomed in his future, Rep. Chuck Edwards, a freshman Republican, spent part of last week traveling across the country to see firsthand how U.S. dollars would be used in the the nation's struggle to repel the Russian invaders. .

What he witnessed as he and a bipartisan group of lawmakers traveled across Ukraine for four days — a dozen airstrikes, a drone assault and sites of gruesome atrocities against civilians — led Edwards and his colleagues to vow to pressure Speaker Mike Johnson to advance a measure to provide more aid to the war effort.

They told President Volodymyr Zelensky that their visit had given them a “new appreciation” of what his country was facing, Edwards said, and that they would pressure Johnson to make sure American aid didn't run out.

The trip came at a critical time for Ukraine aid on Capitol Hill, as Johnson seeks a path to push a new funding package for the struggling nation amid vehement opposition from his right flank. The fate of the initiative depends in part on mainstream Republicans like Edwards, who previously voted in favor of aid to Ukraine, who are willing to join Democrats in throwing their support behind the cause.

In an interview with the New York Times, Edwards, who last month easily fended off a primary challenge to his right from a candidate who opposed U.S. aid to Ukraine, discussed the urgency of supporting the effort war in the country, what he saw during his trip and the difficult politics of the issue.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

Why did you decide to go to Ukraine?

In America the news about what is happening in Ukraine really drops. It's taken a backseat to a lot of other things, other important issues here in the country. And knowing that Ukraine is about to expire, I thought it was important for me to go further and go on a fact-finding mission and get a better, first-hand account of what's really happening over there, as we approach the critical moment and important decision whether – or how – the United States should or should not assist Ukraine.

What were your main learnings?

At the highest level, the conclusion I have come to is that Ukraine will either continue to be a democracy or fall into the hands of a Marxist, socialist, murderous dictatorship. And it cannot – will not remain – a democracy if the United States does not intervene.

Ukraine has a good base of strong men and women willing to step up and defend their country. They don't have the resources to do it. President Zelensky told me about a certain number of brigades – I will not name the number, but a certain number of brigades – which have men but no equipment. They are bringing 10 Russian bullets to everyone who can return them. And if they don't receive equipment and ammunition soon, their democracy will collapse.

The stories of inhumanity that have taken place over there are very brutal and horrendous. And the United States has always stood for freedom, independence and justice. And it would be a travesty for us to take a backseat and allow this to happen. What I think I see happening in Ukraine right now is very similar to what happened before World War II.

Was there a specific story that really resonated with you?

In the village of Bucha, 136 elderly people, women and children were crammed into a very small basement of a school. It was dark, damp, moldy, musty, bad. And they were forced to live there for 27 days. People were dying. They were piling the bodies in a corner.

I had the opportunity to stand in that corner and visualize dead and decaying bodies. And one story that particularly stood out was one where a woman said there was a 7-year-old boy in that basement who was clearly dying. He was going to be among the deceased. He was sick. He was feverish. He was suffocating. He was in a panic. The prisoners in that basement went upstairs knocking on the door and attracted the attention of the Russian soldiers and the one who came to the door the response was, “Let him die. This is war.”

I think this statement alone illustrates the cruelty of what is happening now and why Putin must be stopped. And he made it clear that he won't stop at Ukraine.

His intent is very clear and the world is watching. Our enemies are watching. They witnessed the horrendous withdrawal from Afghanistan. They saw the Biden White House sit back and allow this invasion of Ukraine to take place. China is certainly watching how we respond. North Korea is watching. America has an opportunity right now to demonstrate that we are still a superpower. That we will not allow bullies to prey on those people in the world who cannot defend themselves.

There were doubts about whether President Johnson would even allow aid to Ukraine to receive a vote in the House. Did he send a message to President Zelensky about what the House is likely to do?

I cannot speak for the House generally. But the message to President Zelensky from the six members of the congressional delegation that went there was that we had gained a new awareness of the constraint under which the country is under and that we would return to the United States and try to convince President Johnson and others to move forward and support Ukraine.

I'm curious what you're hearing from your constituents back home about this and how you've had this conversation with them. Your main challenger was against sending aid to Ukraine – and you stood up and made his case.

I interviewed people in my district. And they are in favor, three to one, of helping Ukraine. The few who are against it, I don't think they are totally against aid, but they insist that we must pay close attention to what is happening right here in America. We must protect our border; that we need to pay attention to the debt load we have in America right now.

So I don't think they're firmly against it. They simply insist that we deal with our problems too – and they are right. I believe we can still continue to do both. Joe Biden absolutely must reverse the 64 executive actions he has taken to relax and help open our border. This can be treated as a separate issue.

I believe there is a way to help Ukraine responsibly. There are Russian assets that can be seized. One of the most important things I learned after leaving Ukraine and meeting with the US ambassador to Ukraine is that US sanctions against Russia and global sanctions against Russia don't work. Every war is fought on many fronts. Choking off Putin's profits – oil profits, banking profits – would be another front on which we could fight this war.

Your argument for why the United States should continue to send aid to Ukraine seems like a very traditional GOP argument to me, but it's not the prevailing view in your party right now. Do you feel like you're in the minority on this issue?

I believe that most of the conference and most of the Congress will side with my thesis. I believe America can walk and chew gum.

We have come to the point where we have to do this, because the situation in Ukraine has become truly dire. We do not have the luxury of waiting until we have solved all our problems. We will have to work on them simultaneously.

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