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Several high-profile Republicans are pushing back Tuesday against Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ argument that helping Ukraine fend off Russia’s invading forces isn’t a vital national interest.
In response to a questionnaire sent by Fox News host Tucker Carlson, DeSantis, who has reportedly told allies in private that he plans to run for president in 2024, declared Monday that “becoming further entangled in a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia is not” of vital interest to the US.
DeSantis also ripped the Biden administration for giving Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky what he called “virtual ‘blank check’ funding” for the conflict that “distracts from our country’s most pressing challenges.”
During an appearance on the “Hugh Hewitt Show” Tuesday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) argued that Russia’s interest in Ukraine is not so much about territory, but rather dominating the former Soviet state.
“Well, it’s not a territorial dispute in the sense that any more than it would be a territorial dispute if the United States decided that it wanted to invade Canada or take over the Bahamas,” Rubio told Hewitt. “Just because someone claims something doesn’t mean it belongs to them.”
Rubio added that Russia’s end goal is to overthrow the Ukrainian government and rule the country, and he said the war should not be compared to other conflicts or territorial disputes settled with treaties or peace agreements.
“So, it’s really more of a desire to dominate their neighbor, have them as part of their sphere of influence, not so much of it about the land,” Rubio said.
Republican presidential hopeful Nikki Haley also took a swipe at DeSantis Tuesday, accusing the Florida governor of “copying” former President Donald Trump’s stance on Ukraine and mirroring the e-commander in chief in other ways as well.
“President Trump is right when he says Gov. DeSantis is copying him — first in his style, then on entitlement reform, and now on Ukraine,” Haley, who served as Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, said in a statement.
“I have a different style than President Trump, and while I agree with him on most policies, I do not on those. Republicans deserve a choice, not an echo,” Haley added, explaining that “America is far better off with a Ukrainian victory than a Russian victory.”
Former Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wy.) accused DeSantis of “weakness” Tuesday and of having “forgotten the lessons of Ronald Reagan” in her pointed criticism of his remarks on the Ukraine war.
“The Ukrainian people are fighting for their freedom,” Cheney told the New York Times. “Surrendering to Putin and refusing to defend freedom makes America less safe.
“Weakness is provocative and American officials who advocate this type of weakness are Putin’s greatest weapon,” she added. “Abandoning Ukraine would make broader conflict, including with China and other American adversaries, more likely.”
A day after DeSantis’ provocative comments, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a staunch supporter of the US providing military aid to Ukraine, tweeted, “When it comes to Putin, you either pay now or pay later.”
“Giving in to Putin in Ukraine, in terms of American national security interests, is Biden’s disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan on steroids,” Graham argued.
The GOP senator, who has called on the Biden administration to arm Ukraine with F-16 fighter jets, added that Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to have committed numerous war crimes during his invasion of Ukraine and allowing him to succeed in conquering the European nation “invites aggression by China against Taiwan.”
The 44-year-old DeSantis is averaging 29% support in early 2024 polls, according to RealClearPolitics, behind 76-year-old Trump’s 45% support.