McConnell says “vast majority” of Republicans “totally behind” Ukraine

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday that he believes the “vast majority” of Republicans wholly support Ukraine in its defense against Russia’s ongoing attacks, responding to comments from a small faction of House Republicans who have criticized the United States’ support for the country.

In an interview with “Face the Nation,” McConnell was asked about comments from GOP Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina, who indicated they oppose the U.S. providing assistance to Ukraine in its war against Russia.

Cawthorn was filmed calling Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy a “thug” and claiming the Ukrainian government is “incredibly corrupt” and “incredibly evil.” Greene, meanwhile, said in an address on Facebook that the U.S. should not be sending weapons and assistance to help Ukraine in a war “they can’t win.”

“There’s some lonely voices out there that are in a different place,” McConnell told “Face the Nation,” though he did not mention Cawthorn or Greene by name. “The vast majority of the Republican Party writ large, both in Congress and across the country, are totally behind the Ukrainians and urging the president to take these steps quicker, to be bolder. There may be a few lonely voices off to the side. I wouldn’t pay much attention to them.”

Transcript: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on “Face the Nation”
Cawthorn and Greene are largely outliers among congressional Republicans, though their comments drew a muted response from House Republican leaders. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Cawthorn was “wrong,” and it’s Russian President Vladimir Putin who is a “thug,” but said he still supports the North Carolina congressman’s reelection bid.

Still, many Republicans have urged President Biden to boost U.S. support for Ukraine, and an omnibus government spending package that included $13.6 billion in humanitarian and security assistance for Ukraine and Eastern European countries passed both chambers with bipartisan support.

McConnell said if he were majority leader, he would have brought the supplemental funding for Ukraine to the floor as a standalone bill and predicted “virtually every one of my members would’ve voted for it.” Thirty-one Republican senators voted against the spending package that included the aid.

In addition to the $13.6 billion approved by Congress, the U.S. had provided more than $2 billion in military assistance to Ukraine since the start of the Biden administration. But McConnell said if Ukraine needs more, “we ought to give them more.”

“This is a way to have to have a no-fly zone in effect, to have these weapons systems, ground-to-air weapons systems, give them a fighting chance to control the air, to shoot down planes and others that are seeking to control the air without the U.S. having a no-fly zone and our own pilots in there,” the Kentucky Republican said.

McConnell said Mr. Biden has “generally done the right thing but never soon enough” with Ukraine and pushed the president to “step up his game.”

“Ukrainians have killed more Russians in three weeks than we lost in Afghanistan and Iraq in 20 years,” he said. “I think we ought to go into this believing the Ukrainians can actually win and the way they win is for us to get these defensive weapons systems to them as rapidly as possible.”

To bolster Ukraine’s defenses against Russia’s attacks, the U.S. has provided more than 600 Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, roughly 2,600 Javelin anti-tank missiles, shotguns, machine guns and ammunition. Mr. Biden last week announced an additional $800 million in security assistance to Ukraine, which includes 800 anti-aircraft systems, drones, 20 million rounds of ammunition and 9,000 anti-armor systems.

But Zelenskyy made an emotional appeal directly to Congress last week for the U.S. to create a no-fly zone over Ukraine’s skies, a request Mr. Biden opposes since it would force the U.S. to directly engage with the Russian military.

Many in Congress also do not support imposing a no-fly zone over Ukraine, but split with the Biden administration over its rejection of a proposal from Poland to transfer MiG fighter jets to Ukraine.

McConnell said he is “perplexed” as to why the U.S. couldn’t help get the Polish warplanes into Ukraine.

McConnell said he is “perplexed” as to why the U.S. couldn’t help get the Polish warplanes into Ukraine.

“The Ukrainians have plenty of pilots that know how to fly them,” he said. “In those Eastern bloc countries, they have Soviet ground-to-air systems that the Ukrainians know how to work. We have the resources given to the president to get those weapons in there as rapidly as possible.”

In the 25 days since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, Russian forces have struggled in their effort to take over the capital city of Kyiv and their advance outside other major cities is largely stalled. The civilian death toll in Ukraine, though, continues to rise with Russia’s unrelenting attacks.

In the port city of Mariupol, Ukrainian officials have accused Russia of bombing an art school where 400 people were sheltering, marking the second attack of a public building where civilians were taking shelter in less than a week. Russian forces struck a theater in Mariupol where more than 1,300 people were believed to be inside last week.

The United Nations’ human rights office estimated Saturday that nearly 900 civilians have been killed in Ukraine and another nearly 1,400 wounded, though the death toll is likely much higher.

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