Election 2024: Donald Trump Declines to Fight Aid to Ukraine
from The Water's Edge

Election 2024: Donald Trump Declines to Fight Aid to Ukraine

Each Friday, I look at what the presidential contenders are saying about foreign policy. This Week: Donald Trump has chosen to stand aside as the House of Representatives moves to vote on aid to Ukraine.
Ukrainian soldiers with the 43rd Heavy Artillery Brigade fire a projectile cannon in Bakhmut, Ukraine, on December 26, 2022.
Ukrainian soldiers with the 43rd Heavy Artillery Brigade fire a projectile cannon in Bakhmut, Ukraine, on December 26, 2022. Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

One of best Sherlock Holmes stories is “The Adventure of Silver Blaze.” In it, Holmes solves the theft of a prize racehorse by focusing on what didn’t happen rather than what did. In doing so, Holmes (or more precisely, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) gave us the phrase “the dog that didn’t bark.”

“The Adventure of Silver Blaze” comes to mind this week as Speaker of the House Mike Johnson moved forward with the long-stalled legislative package that would provide aid to Israel, Taiwan, and Ukraine. The move precipitated a flurry of activity. Johnson divided what had been one bill into four parts, but largely kept the provisions that President Joe Biden has been calling for, particularly those dealing with Ukraine. Johnson also broke new ground by allying with Democrats to get the bills to the floor over the objections of Republicans who oppose aiding Ukraine.

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The War in Ukraine

The House Republicans seeking to block aid to Ukraine were equally active. Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene vowed to move ahead with her effort to oust Johnson from the speakership, saying she didn’t care if the “speaker’s office becomes a revolving door.” Representatives Paul Gosar of Arizona and Thomas Massie of Kentucky publicly joined Taylor Greene’s effort. There are rumblings that other Republican House lawmakers will follow suit. The House Freedom Caucus tried to mobilize rank-and-file voters to pressure their elected representatives to oppose Johson’s moves.

Meanwhile, Sen. J.D. Vance continued his campaign to kill aid to Ukraine. The junior senator from Ohio wrote an op-ed for the New York Times arguing that “the math on Ukraine doesn’t add up.” He then circulated a “factsheet” to Republican lawmakers on both sides of Capitol Hill that argued that “the United States faces the same strategic challenge whether or not the 2024 emergency defense supplemental passes: the war in Ukraine consumes far more military matériel than the west can produce, and it costs the lives of far more Ukrainians than Ukraine can mobilize.”

Far more remarkable than this flurry of activity, however, is what hasn’t happened: Donald Trump hasn’t weighed into the debate. Despite repeatedly expressing skepticism about the wisdom of U.S. support for Ukraine and criticizing the way Biden has structured Ukrainian aid, he didn’t try to stop Johnson’s decision to hold a vote. To the contrary, he hosted Johnson at Mar-a-Lago last week and said, “I stand with the speaker.” Trump did complain yesterday on Truth Social about “why isn’t Europe giving more money to Ukraine.” (Europe has in fact given Ukraine a considerable amount.) He didn’t mention the Ukraine aid bill, however, let alone urge Republicans to block it.

That’s quite different from the approach Trump took earlier this year when the Senate voted on a painstakingly negotiated, bipartisan bill to boost security on the U.S. southern border. Then Trump jumped into the fray with both feet, demanding that Republicans kill the bill. They did.

Only Trump knows why he hasn’t weighed into the Ukraine debate in a similar fashion. Perhaps he is distracted by the start of his criminal trial in New York. Or perhaps he was persuaded during his recent conversation with Polish President Andrzej Duda, whom he calls “my friend,” of the importance of funding Ukraine. Or perhaps he has calculated that the bill will likely pass even if he opposes it, and he prefers not to highlight the limits of his influence. Or perhaps he wishes to avoid blame should Ukraine suffer substantial reverses on the battlefield.

More on:

United States

Election 2024

Diamonstein-Spielvogel Project on the Future of Democracy

Elections and Voting

The War in Ukraine

Whatever the motivation, Trump’s silence this week—which could end in the time it takes to post on social media—is a reminder of the importance of listening for the dog that doesn’t bark. Had Trump sought to kill the aid package, it might still be sitting in the speaker’s inbox. If the bill passes when it comes to a vote tomorrow, it will be none too soon. CIA Director William Burns warned yesterday that if Congress does not pass the aid package, “there is a very real risk that Ukrainians could lose on the battlefield by the end of 2024.”

Campaign Update

Six members of the extended Kennedy family, including Robert F. Kennedy Jr’s sister, appeared with Biden at a campaign rally in Philadelphia yesterday to endorse his reelection. As they were doing so, the Kennedy campaign announced that the third-party candidate had made the ballot in the battleground state of Michigan. Kennedy has already qualified in Utah and has gathered the signatures needed to qualify in seven other states, including the battleground states of Nevada and North Carolina.

A dozen news organizations issued a statement on Sunday calling on Biden and Trump "to publicly commit to participating in general election debates." In anticipation of the news organizations’ statement, the Trump campaign sent a letter to the Commission on Presidential Debates last week urging it to hold more than the proposed three presidential debates and to hold them earlier in the year because of early voting. The Trump campaign statement added: “We have already indicated President Trump is willing to debate anytime, anyplace, and anywhere–and the time to start these debates is now.” The Biden campaign did not immediately respond to the media statement or to the Trump letter. Biden said last month that his willingness to debate Trump “depends on his behavior."

I noted last week that Alabama state law would bar Biden from appearing on its ballot in November because he won’t be officially nominated until after the state’s deadline passes for parties to certify their candidates. That problem is on its way to being solved. The Alabama House and Senate both moved forward this week with legislation that would move the certification deadline to after the Democratic convention convenes.

Microsoft reported that Russian influence operations aimed at interfering with the U.S. election “have picked up steam in the past two months. The Microsoft Threat Analysis Center (MTAC) has tracked at least 70 Russian actors engaged in Ukraine-focused disinformation, using traditional and social media and a mix of covert and overt campaigns.” On the positive side, Microsoft has also found that “the use of high-production synthetic deepfake videos of world leaders and candidates has so far not caused mass deception and broad-based confusion. In fact, we have seen that audiences are more likely to gravitate towards and share simple digital forgeries, which have been used by influence actors over the past decade. For example, false news stories with real news agency logos embossed on them.”

The Candidates in Their Own Words

Biden wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday calling on the U.S. House to pass the long-stalled aid bill for Israel and Ukraine. “There are moments in history that call for leadership and courage,” the president wrote. “This is one of them.”

That same day, Biden told a rally in his hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania, that he wants his trade representative to triple tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from China. The announcement was more symbolic than substantive. Chinese steel and aluminum already face heavy U.S. tariffs, which is why they account for only 0.6 per cent of total U.S. steel demand. Two other Biden administration trade moves announced on Wednesday were more significant. One was the decision to work with Mexican authorities to crack down on Chinese efforts to evade tariffs by routing their imports through Mexico. The other was the announcement by the U.S. Trade Representative’s office that it was opening an investigation into China’s domination of shipbuilding.

At a rally on Tuesday in Schnecksville, Pennsylvania, a town sixty-three miles north of Philadelphia, Trump fired up a crowd that chanted, “Genocide Joe,” presumably a critique of Biden’s support for Israel’s military operations in Gaza. Trump responded by saying: “They are not wrong. They are not wrong. He has done everything wrong."

 Trump responded to Iran’s attack by saying: “They’re (Israel) under attack right now. That’s because we show great weakness... The weakness that we’ve shown is unbelievable, and it would not have happened if we were in office.”

Trump responded to Iran’s attack on Israel by posting on Truth Social a screenshot of Florida Senator Rick Scott’s tweet resurrecting a 2018 Trump tweet:

Cornel West and Melina Abdullah did a joint interview with CNN. The Israel-Hamas war came up. West said, “I don’t believe in killing an innocent anybody. But you don’t start with those voices without coming to terms with the vicious killings and occupations that’s been going on for 75 years, and then you get a counterterrorist response to that.”

Abdullah said, “I find it really troubling that we are constantly asked to condemn Hamas. I’m not a member of Hamas.” She added, “I find it even more troubling that an entire state has been built on the genocide of a people, and I think that we have to start with that first.”

What the Pundits Are Saying

Politico’s Nahal Toosi argued that “there is no Biden strategy for Iran.” In Toosi’s view, the Biden administrationdoesn’t seem willing to even say it wants to fundamentally change the regime’s behavior” and “is managing a problem, not trying to solve it.” Perhaps. But it’s worth recalling that many if not most problems in world affairs are not solved but merely managed.

Politico’s Gavin Bade reported that Trump is considering an effort to weaken the dollar should he return to the White House. The idea would be to boost U.S. exports by making them less expensive. But as Bade notes, weakening the dollar could have “far-reaching consequences, from sending consumer prices for imported products soaring, to inviting retaliation from other countries and threatening the dollar’s role as world reserve currency, which would undermine U.S. sanctions on adversaries like Iran and Russia.”

The New York Times’ Ian Prasad Philbrick examined the “nostalgia bump” that Trump is enjoying in the polls. Like many presidents before him, he is more popular now than he was when he was in office. “The difference this year,” Philbrick noted, “is that, for the first time in decades, a former president is running to reclaim his old office.”

The Atlantic’s Ron Brownstein explored how Israel’s war in Gaza is dividing the Democratic Party. In Brownstein’s view, before Iran’s drone and missile attack on Israel, “Biden faced greater division in his own coalition over his handling of the Israel-Hamas war than any other Democratic president has confronted on a foreign-policy choice in decades.”

Politico’s Veronika Melkozerova argued that Trump’s lack of sympathy toward Ukraine has less to do with geopolitical calculations than personal ones. “It was, after all, a phone call with [Ukrainian Volodymyr] Zelenskyy that led to Trump’s first impeachment in December 2019, after he was accused of seeking to influence the 2020 election by leaning on the Ukrainian leader to investigate current President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.” 

What the Polls Show

A poll released yesterday by the Institute of Politics (IOP) at Harvard Kennedy School highlights Biden’s struggles in appealing to younger voters. Biden now leads Trump 56 percent to 37 percent among likely voters under the age of thirty. At this time back in 2020, Biden led Trump by 60 percent to 30 percent.

The Campaign Schedule

The oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court on Trump’s claim that he has blanket immunity for all his actions while president are set to begin in six days (April 25, 2024).

The Republican National Convention opens in Milwaukee in eighty-seven days (July 15, 2024).

The Democratic National Convention opens in Chicago in 122 days (August 19, 2024).

Election Day is 200 days away.

Inauguration Day is 276 days away.

Sinet Adous assisted in the preparation of this post.

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