Rep. Jake Auchincloss urges U.S. to keep supporting Ukraine: ‘It’s sending a message’

“We shouldn't be flinching every time Putin flexes. We are in the right.”

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President Biden, in suit and tie, has his arm warmly around the shoulder of President Volodomyr Zelensky, in battle-green sweater, who expresses gratitude and emotion.

WASHINGTON — President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine arrived in Washington during a particularly tumultuous time in American politics. With the GOP set to take control over the House of Representatives, President Biden’s agenda could grind to a halt, potentially imperiling funding that has allowed Ukraine to repel an invasion by Russia’s much larger military.

Without American aid, defending Ukraine could become impossible. But most Democrats and some Republicans have vowed to keep assisting Zelensky until the Russian invasion is definitively turned back.

That, however, could take months — perhaps even years.

Rep. Jake Auchincloss at the microphone with a placard saying: Protect Children Through Safe Gun Ownership Act.

In an interview ahead of Zelensky’s arrival on Wednesday, Rep. Jake Auchincloss, a military veteran and ally of the White House, promised to fight with fellow Democrats to ensure that the United States does not abandon Ukraine, however long the war in Eastern Europe takes.

“We're in a global struggle between democracy and autocracy. And Ukraine is fighting on the frontlines of that struggle,” Auchincloss, D-Mass., told Yahoo News. “Our support for Ukraine is sending a message to Moscow, it's sending a message to Beijing. And it's sending a message to other authoritarian regimes.”

Biden has made the struggle for democracy both at home and abroad a centerpiece of his agenda. Although corruption has long been a problem in Kyiv, Zelensky was elected in an election that was, in relative terms, democratic. Russia, on the other hand, has been subject to President Vladimir Putin’s autocratic rule for more than two decades.

The United States has already devoted billions of dollars in military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine, in a pledge earmarked for NATO allies and Ukraine of $45 billion in the $1.7 trillion spending deal Congress unveiled earlier this week. Although much of the resistance to that spending has come from Republicans, some progressives have also grown weary of so much spending on a foreign war when so many domestic priorities have gone unmet.

A helmeted Ukrainian soldier blocks his ears as a group of four fellow soldiers blast a missile from an armored vehicle, with an avenue of trees in the background.
Ukrainian soldiers fire a Pion artillery system at Russian positions near Bakhmut, in the region of Donetsk, Ukraine, on Dec. 16. (LIBKOS/AP)

Those anxieties are misplaced, says Auchincloss, a Harvard graduate who served in the Marines and led a combat platoon in Afghanistan. When it comes to supporting Ukraine, he is unapologetic about both the moral and geopolitical need to do so, regardless of the expense.

“Every single dollar that we give to Ukraine that enables them to be successful,” he says, pays off by enforcing “global liberal principles” around the world, making it less likely that another autocrat – like Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who has designs on Taiwan – will decide to make a military move.

Of course, the war in Eastern Europe is far from over. Zelensky did not come to Washington to celebrate, but to ask Congress and the White House for continued aid, including long-range missile systems that, if deployed on the battlefield, could help deal Russia a decisive blow. So far, however, Washington has balked at some of Kyiv’s more ambitious requests, even as it has honored others.

Although he takes pains not to criticize Pentagon decisions about what to send and when — decisions based on battlefield realities, training capacity and shipping logistics — Auchincloss thinks that Putin’s willingness to mount a nuclear response to overly assertive Western assistance has been overstated.

“We shouldn't be flinching every time Putin flexes,” he says. “We are in the right.”

Rep. Kevin McCarthy at the podium with Rep. Elise Stefanik and Rep. Steve Scalise beside him.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., flanked by Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., left, and Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., at a press conference discussing the appropriations process by Democrats to fund the government, at the Capitol on Dec. 14. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

In good part, the state of the battlefield in Eastern Europe could be informed by political dynamics on Capitol Hill. For weeks, the GOP has been in the midst of a contentious leadership fight over who will serve as House Speaker come January, and Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is likely to prevail. An ally of former President Donald Trump, McCarthy recently said that he would not write a “blank check” to Ukraine. He later softened his comments, affirming that Ukraine was “very important,” but unease from his initial remarks has lingered.

If McCarthy does prevail in the speakership fight, Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, a reliable pro-Ukraine vote, will almost certainly chair the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and is expected to resist launching the kind of partisan investigations other House committees are sure to embark upon.

“My GOP colleagues need to hear this speech,” Auchincloss said. “And they need to reflect on whether in 2023, when they have the gavel in the House, they want to sustain bipartisan commitment to the frontlines of the free world.”