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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

Rubin: Will Johnson stand up to Trump on Ukraine aid?

By Trudy Rubin
Published: April 15, 2024, 6:01am

How grotesque to watch long-term U.S. security interests hang on the outcome of a political battle between the Hamlet-like speaker of the House, Mike Johnson, and vengeful MAGA conspiracy theorist Marjorie Taylor Greene.

As Congress returns from Easter break, Johnson still hasn’t made up his mind whether to allow a vote on a bill that includes $60 billion worth of desperately needed aid for Ukraine — which would assuredly pass with a bipartisan majority.

He could still bow to Greene, who (with a number of colleagues) opposes U.S. help for Kyiv. In the topsy-turvy system MAGA zealots have imposed on the GOP House caucus, one Republican ideologue — in this case, the representative from Georgia — can trigger the speaker’s ouster. While these political lightweights dither, people are dying, as Ukrainian soldiers run out of artillery shells and Russia bombs homes and infrastructure in large Ukrainian cities that lack air defenses.

“If the Congress doesn’t help Ukraine, Ukraine will lose the war,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy recently told the country’s local fundraising group. “If Ukraine loses this war, other countries will be attacked.”

Unless Johnson finds some courage, the responsibility for this security debacle will lie on his shoulders. The blood of Ukrainian victims already stains MAGA hands.

The congressional struggle over Ukraine aid has dragged on for six months, as the GOP tried to link it to reforms that limit migration across the southern border. But when the Senate passed a bipartisan aid bill that included strong border reforms, Donald Trump pressured most GOP senators to oppose it.

Because of Trump’s opposition — tied to the former president’s desire to use immigration as a campaign issue — Johnson has refused to let the House vote on the Senate bill.

If the aid package passed, Ukraine could acquire more air defenses, along with desperately needed artillery shells for the front lines. The longer the delay, the greater the chance that Russia could break through Ukraine’s defensive lines.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Kremlin minions regularly dispense threats about using nuclear weapons, while threatening non-NATO members in Europe, and militarizing the Arctic. Putin has repeatedly made clear, in public speeches, that he seeks to rebuild the Russian empire, even if that means seizing more sovereign territory from Ukraine and other nations.

Yet, Trump continues to boast that he could negotiate a peace deal between Russia and Ukraine within 24 hours if reelected. He has privately said he would do so by pressuring Ukraine to cede Crimea and the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine, according to a report in the Washington Post.

Meantime, in Congress and MAGA world, far-right Republicans talk as if Ukraine is the enemy, using debunked claims about stolen U.S. funds and Ukrainian corruption that echo Kremlin propaganda (which has metastasized on X).

This is the fetid GOP atmosphere in which Speaker Johnson must make his decision: Does he want to do the right thing for American security, or kowtow to the MAGA mob whose leader admires Putin?

I must add here that President Joe Biden also faces a momentous choice: If aid resumes, the White House needs to stop foot-dragging on sending Ukraine key weapons systems with which Kyiv could expand its amazing progress in taking out Russian ships, military bases and supply depots.

But first things first. In the coming days, the future of the Ukraine war may be decided, either by a show of Johnsonian courage or by Putin’s pals in the GOP.