“As is sometimes the case in American politics, a bill that many people are likely not paying a great deal of attention to is likely to have enormous impact on the nation’s future.” Heather Cox Richardson, Letters from an American, 12/11/23
Sometimes you need to take a deep dive to imagine an end result. Heather Cox Richardson’s “Letters from an American” describes the impasse of funding for Ukraine in Congress, Republican embrace of allies of Hungary’s far-right prime minister Viktor Orbán who are currently in Washington attempting to derail further military support for Ukraine, and related topics in the news.
12/11/23 – Letters from an American
“As is sometimes the case in American politics, a bill that many people are likely not paying a great deal of attention to is likely to have enormous impact on the nation’s future.
That $110.5 billion national security supplemental package was designed to provide additional funding for Ukraine in its war to fight off Russia’s invasion; security assistance to Israel, primarily for missile defense systems; humanitarian assistance to citizens in Gaza and the West Bank, Ukraine, and elsewhere; funding to replenish U.S. weapon stockpiles; assistance to regional partners in the Indo-Pacific; investments in efforts to stop illegal fentanyl from coming into the U.S. and to dismantle international drug cartels; and investment in U.S. Customs and Border Protection to enhance border security and speed up migrant processing.
President Joe Biden asked for the supplemental funding in late October. Such a package is broadly popular among lawmakers of both parties who like that Ukraine is holding back Russian expansion that would threaten countries that make up the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). If Russia attacks a NATO country, all NATO members, including the U.S., are required to respond.
Since supplying Ukraine with weapons to maintain its fight essentially means sending Ukraine outdated weapons while paying U.S. workers to build new ones, creating jobs largely in Republican-dominated states, and since Ukraine is weakening Russia for about 5% of the U.S. defense budget, it would seem to be a program both parties would want to maintain. Today, even Trump’s former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said: “If Ukraine loses, the cost to America will be far greater than the aid we have given Ukraine. The least costly way to move forward is to provide Ukraine with the weapons needed to win and end the war.”
But now that former president Trump has made immigration a leading part of his campaign and a Trump loyalist, Mike Johnson (R-LA), is House speaker, Republican extremists are demanding their own immigration policies be added to the package.
Those demands amount to a so-called poison pill for the measure. The House Republicans’ own immigration bill significantly narrows the right to apply for asylum in the U.S.—which is a right recognized in both domestic and international law—and prevents the federal government from permitting blanket asylum in emergency cases, such as for Afghan and Ukrainian refugees. It ends the asylum program that permits people to enter the U.S. with a sponsor, a program that has reduced illegal entry by up to 95%.
It requires the government to build Trump’s wall and allows the seizure of private land to do it.
When the House passed its immigration measure in May 2023, the administration responded that it “strongly supports productive efforts to reform the Nation’s immigration system” but opposed this measure, “which makes elements of our immigration system worse.”
And yet House Republicans are so determined to force the country to accept their extreme anti-immigration policies, they are willing to kill the aid to Ukraine that even their own lawmakers want, leaving that country undersupplied as it goes into the winter.
When he brought the supplemental bill up last week, Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) promised the Republicans that he would let them make whatever immigration amendments they wanted to the bill to be voted on, if only they would let the bill get to the floor. But all Senate Republicans refused, essentially threatening to use the filibuster to keep the measure from the floor until it includes the House Republicans’ demands.
This unwillingness to fund a crucial partner in its fight against Russia has resurrected concerns that the Trump-supporting MAGA Republicans are working not for the United States but for Russian president Vladimir Putin, who badly needs the U.S. to abandon Ukraine in order to help him win his war.
Media outlets in Moscow reinforced this sense when they celebrated the Senate vote, gloating that Ukraine is now in “agony” and that it was “difficult to imagine a bigger humiliation.” One analyst said: “The downfall of Ukraine means the downfall of Biden! Two birds with one stone!” Another: “Well done, Republicans! They’re standing firm! That’s good for us.”
Today, allies of Hungary’s far-right prime minister Viktor Orbán were in Washington, D.C., where they are participating in an effort to derail further military support for Ukraine (an effort that in itself suggests Putin is concerned about how the war is going). Flora Garamvolgyi and David Smith of The Guardian explained that the right-wing Heritage Foundation think tank, which leads Project 2025—the far-right blueprint for a MAGA administration—and which strongly opposes aid to Ukraine, is hosting a two-day event about the war and about “transatlantic culture wars.”
This conference appears explicitly to tie the themes of the far right to an attack on Ukraine aid. Orbán has dismantled democracy in his own country, charging that the equality before the law established in democracies weakens a nation both by allowing immigration and by accepting that women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ people should have the same rights as heterosexual white men, principles that he maintains undermine Christianity. In Hungary, Orbán has cracked down on immigration, LGBTQ+ rights, and women’s rights while gathering power into his own hands.
In the U.S. the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) and its allies—including former Fox News Channel personality Tucker Carlson and Arizona representative Paul Gosar—openly admire Orbán’s Hungary as a model for the U.S. Indeed, some of the anti-LGBTQ+ laws Florida governor Ron DeSantis has pushed through the Florida legislature appear to have been patterned directly on Hungarian laws.
Orbán—a close ally of Russia’s president Vladimir Putin, who embraces the same “illiberal democracy” or “Christian democracy” Orbán does—is currently working to stop the European Union from funding Ukraine. Now Orbán’s allies are openly urging their right-wing counterparts in the U.S. to join him in backing Putin. A diplomatic source close to the Hungarian embassy told Garamvolgyi and Smith: “Orbán is confident that the Ukraine aid will not pass in Congress. That is why he is trying to block assistance from the EU as well.”
Former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul today noted that even the delay in funding has hurt the U.S. “Delaying a vote on aid to Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan will do great damage to America’s reputation as a reliable global leader in a very dangerous world. Delay is a gift to Putin, Xi, and the mullahs in Iran,” he wrote. “The stakes are very high.”
Republican determination to push their own immigration plan seems in part to be an attempt to come up with an issue to compete with abortion as the central concern of the 2024 election. As soon as he took office, Biden asked for funding to increase border security and process asylum seekers, and he has repeatedly said he wants to modernize the immigration system. To pass the national security supplemental appropriation, he has emphasized that he is willing to compromise on immigration, but the Republicans are insisting instead on a policy that echoes Trump’s extreme policies.
Immigration, on which Orbán rose to power, has the potential to outweigh abortion, which is hurting Republicans quite badly.
We’ll see. The story out of Texas, where 31-year-old Kate Cox has been unable to get an abortion despite the fact that the fetus she is carrying has a fatal condition and the pregnancy is endangering her health and her ability to carry another child in the future, illuminates just how dangerous the Republicans’ abortion bans are. Under Texas’s abortion ban, doctors would not perform an abortion, so Cox went to a state court for permission to obtain one.
The state court ruled in Cox’s favor, but Texas attorney general Ken Paxton immediately threatened any doctor who performed the abortion, and appealed to the Texas Supreme Court to block the lower court’s order, saying that allowing Cox to obtain an abortion would irreparably harm the people of Texas. All nine of the justices on the state supreme court are Republicans.
Late Friday night the Texas Supreme Court blocked the lower court’s order, pending review, and today, Cox’s lawyers said she had left the state to obtain urgently needed health care. This evening the Texas Supreme Court ruled against Cox, saying she was not entitled to a medical exception from the state’s abortion ban.
The image of a woman forced by the state to carry a fetus with a fatal condition at the risk of her own health and future fertility until finally she has to flee her state for medical care is one that will not be erased easily.
Meanwhile, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has disappeared. His lawyer says he was told Navalny was “no longer listed” in the files of the prison where he was being held, and Navalny’s associates have not been able to contact him for six days.”