History is Watching

February 13, 2024 

HEATHER COX RICHARDSON

FEB 14READ IN APP

“History is watching,” President Joe Biden said this afternoon. He warned “Republicans in Congress who think they can oppose funding for Ukraine and not be held accountable” that “[f]ailure to support Ukraine at this critical moment will never be forgotten.”

At about 5:00 this morning, the Senate passed a $95 billion national security supplemental bill, providing funding for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan, and humanitarian aid to Gaza. Most of the money in the measure will stay in the United States, paying defense contractors to restock the matériel the U.S. sends to Ukraine. 

The vote was 70–29 and was strongly bipartisan. Twenty-two Republicans joined Democrats in support of the bill, overcoming the opposition of far-right Republicans.

The measure went to the House of Representatives, where House speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) said he will not take it up, even though his far-right supporters acknowledged that a majority of the representatives supported it and that if it did come to the floor, it would pass. 

Yesterday, House Intelligence Committee chair Mike Turner (R-OH)—who had just returned from his third trip to Ukraine, where he told President Volodymyr Zelensky that reinforcements were coming—told Politico’s Rachel Bade: “We have to get this done…. This is no longer an issue of, ‘When do we support Ukraine?’ If we do not move, this will be abandoning Ukraine.” 

“The speaker will need to bring it to the floor,” Turner said. “You’re either for or against the authoritarian governments invading democratic countries.… You’re either for or against the killing of innocent civilians. You’re either for or against Russia reconstituting the Soviet Union.”

Today, Biden spoke to the press to “call on the Speaker to let the full House speak its mind and not allow a minority of the most extreme voices in the House to block this bill even from being voted on—even from being voted on. This is a critical act for the House to move. It needs to move.”

Bipartisan support for Ukraine “sends a clear message to Ukrainians and to our partners and to our allies around the world: America can be trusted, America can be relied upon, and America stands up for freedom,” he said. “We stand strong for our allies. We never bow down to anyone, and certainly not to Vladimir Putin.”

“Supporting this bill is standing up to Putin. Opposing it is playing into Putin’s hands.”

“The stakes were already high for American security before this bill was passed in the Senate last night,” Biden said. “But in recent days, those stakes have risen. And that’s because the former President has sent a dangerous and shockingly, frankly, un-American signal to the world” Biden said, referring to Trump’s statement on Saturday night that he would “encourage [Russia] to do whatever the hell they want” to countries that are part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)—the 75-year-old collective security organization that spans North America and Europe—but are not devoting 2% of the gross domestic product to their militaries. 

Trump’s invitation to Putin to invade our NATO allies was “dumb,…shameful,…dangerous, [and] un-American,” Biden said. “When America gives its word, it means something. When we make a commitment, we keep it. And NATO is a sacred commitment.” NATO, Biden said, is “the alliance that protects America and the world.”

“[O]ur adversaries have long sought to create cracks in the Alliance. The greatest hope of all those who wish America harm is for NATO to fall apart. And you can be sure that they all cheered when they heard [what] Donald Trump…said.”

“Our nation stands at…an inflection point in history…where the decisions we make now are going to determine the course of our future for decades to come. This is one of those moments.

And I say to the House members, House Republicans: You’ve got to decide. Are you going to stand up for freedom, or are you going to side with terror and tyranny? Are you going to stand with Ukraine, or are you going to stand with Putin? Will we stand with America or…with Trump?”

“Republicans and Democrats in the Senate came together to send a message of unity to the world. It’s time for the House Republicans to do the same thing: to pass this bill immediately, to stand for decency, stand for democracy, to stand up to a so-called leader hellbent on weakening American security,” Biden said. 

“And I mean this sincerely: History is watching. History is watching.”

But instead of taking up the supplemental national security bill tonight, House speaker Johnson took advantage of the fact that Representative Steve Scalise (R-LA) has returned to Washington after a stem cell transplant to battle his multiple myeloma and that Judy Chu (D-CA) is absent because she has Covid to make a second attempt to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas for “high crimes and misdemeanors” for his oversight of the southern border of the United States. 

Republicans voted to impeach Mayorkas by a vote of 214 to 213. The vote catered to far-right Republicans, but impeachment will go nowhere in the Senate.

“History will not look kindly on House Republicans for their blatant act of unconstitutional partisanship that has targeted an honorable public servant in order to play petty political games,” Biden said in a statement. He called on the House to pass the border security measure Republicans killed last week on Trump’s orders, and to pass the national security supplemental bill.

House minority leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) has said he will use every possible tool to force a vote on the national security supplemental bill. In contrast, as Biden noted, House Republicans are taking their cue from former president Trump, who does not want aid to Ukraine to pass and who last night demonstrated that he is trying to consolidate his power over the party by installing hand-picked loyalists, including his daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, who is married to his son Eric, at the head of the Republican National Committee (RNC). 

This move is likely due in part to outgoing RNC chair Ronna McDaniel’s having said the RNC could not pay Trump’s legal bills once he declared himself a presidential candidate. After his political action committees dropped $50 million on legal fees last year, he could likely use another pipeline, and even closer loyalists might give him one. 

In addition, Trump probably recognizes that he might well lose the protective legal bulwark of the Trump Organization when Judge Arthur Engoron hands down his verdict in Trump’s $370 million civil fraud trial. New York attorney general Letitia James is seeking not only monetary penalties but also a ban on Trump’s ability to conduct business in the New York real estate industry. In that event, the RNC could become a base of operations for Trump if he succeeds in taking it over entirely. 

But it is not clear that all Republican lawmakers will follow him into that takeover, as his demands from the party not only put it out of step with the majority of the American people but also now clearly threaten to blow up global security. “Our base cannot possibly know what’s at stake at the level that any well-briefed U.S. senator should know about what’s at stake if Putin wins,” Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) told his colleagues as he urged them to vote for the national security supplemental bill.

Politicians should recognize that Trump’s determination to win doesn’t help them much: it is all about him and does not extend to any down-ballot races. 

Indeed, the attempt of a Republican minority to impose its will on the majority of Americans appears to be sparking a backlash. In today’s election in New York’s Third Congressional District to replace indicted serial liar George Santos, a loyal Trump Republican, voters chose Democrat Tom Suozzi by about 8 points. CNN’s Dana Bash tonight said voters had told her they voted against the Republican candidate because Republicans, on Trump’s orders, killed the bipartisan border deal. The shift both cuts down the Republican majority in the House and suggests that going into 2024, suburban swing voters are breaking for Democrats. 

As Trump tries to complete his takeover of the formerly grand old Republican Party, its members have to decide whether to capitulate.

History is watching.

Leave a Reply