Mar 14, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Senate Republicans criticize DeSantis over Ukraine comments

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to Iowa voters on March 10, 2023 in Des Moines, Iowa

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to Iowa voters on Mar. 10 in Des Moines. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Some Senate Republicans on Tuesday rebuked Gov. Ron DeSantis after the likely GOP presidential contender criticized U.S. support for Ukraine in its war against Russia.

Why it matters: It's another sign of the underlying rift within the GOP over providing further assistance — and underscores the tensions between the pro-Ukraine wing and those embracing more isolationist rhetoric.

The big picture: In a statement aired Monday night by Fox News, DeSantis aligned himself with former President Trump on Ukraine, saying it is not in the U.S.' "vital national interests" to become "further entangled in a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia."

  • The statement came in response to a questionnaire sent by Fox News host Tucker Carlson to all declared and potential 2024 Republican candidates.
  • Trump, in answering the same questionnaire, also said that opposing Russia in Ukraine was not a vital interest for the U.S.
  • DeSantis has not yet officially declared his 2024 presidential bid, but he is widely considered a frontrunner.

Driving the news: Republican lawmakers, mainly in the Senate, pushed back Tuesday against DeSantis' comments.

  • Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told Politico that he is "disturbed" by DeSantis' stance.
  • "I think he's a smart guy. I want to find out more about it but I hope he feels like he doesn't need to take that Tucker Carlson line to be competitive in the primary," Cornyn said.
  • Cornyn also retweeted comments from Jay Nordlinger, a senior editor at National Review, that said "DeSantis betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of a crucial issue."

Meanwhile, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) also took to social media to share his views.

  • "To those who believe that Russia’s unprovoked and barbaric invasion of Ukraine is not a priority for the United States – you are missing a lot," Graham tweeted.
  • "Those who miscalculated Hitler’s intentions paved the way for a wider war and missed many opportunities to stop him early on," Graham added. "Now is not the time to repeat the mistakes of the past."

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt that the U.S. does "have an interest" in providing more aid to Ukraine.

  • "It’s not a territorial dispute in the sense that any more than it would be a territorial dispute if the United States decided that it wanted to invade Canada or take over the Bahamas," Rubio said.
  • "I don’t know what he’s trying to do or what the goal is," Rubio said of DeSantis. "Obviously, he doesn’t deal with foreign policy every day as governor, so [...] I can’t compare that to something else he did or has said over the last few years."

Of note: Both Rubio and Cornyn regularly receive classified briefings from U.S. intelligence agencies as part of their work on the Intelligence Committee, providing them with more, non-public information about Russia's ongoing attack.

  • "There is a national security interest in Ukraine," Rubio told Hewitt. "It’s not the number one national security interest the United States has, but it’s an important one."
  • "It’s not an unlimited interest. It’s not $60 billion dollars every six months," Rubio said. "But there are things we can do and should do."
  • "I think those of us who feel that way have an obligation to sort of explain to people how this fits in the broader overall package."

Zoom out: Recent polls show there's still support among Americans for aiding Ukraine, but there's been a drop in pro-Ukraine sentiment among Republicans in recent months.

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