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It’s “America First,” not “Ukraine First,” some Republicans are openly telling the establishment. Now the establishment is fighting back.
Congress’ nearly $40 billion package of humanitarian aid and critical weapons for the war-torn nation is taking heat from a growing number of conservative lawmakers, candidates, activists, and even former President DONALD TRUMP. Their case against spending on Ukraine’s battle against Russia is all about redirecting taxpayer money to domestic problems — but it’s alarming fellow Republicans who see it as not only a flawed argument, but part of a disturbing trend toward isolationism.
Sen. BILL HAGERTY (R-Tenn.), who served in the Trump administration as ambassador to Japan, told Fox News’ MARIA BARTIROMO Sunday that “we’ve got crises erupting across the nation” like a dearth of baby formula, drug overdoses and issues at the southern border.
“The federal government can’t keep spending money without accountability or oversight,” Sen. TOMMY TUBERVILLE (R-Ala.) told NatSec Daily, adding that he does “support military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine, and I continue to support their fight to defend their freedom.”
It’s all putting the sprawling aid package, which is set to clear the Senate later this week, at the center of the ongoing battle to define the modern GOP. And it comes at a critical time for Ukraine’s war effort.
Much of the party, from the rank-and-file all the way up to Senate Minority Leader MITCH MCCONNELL, is forcefully rejecting the MAGA wing’s opposition to the aid.
“I don’t know what their alternative is. We’ve seen world wars started over less than what is happening in Europe,” said Sen. JOHN CORNYN (R-Texas), who just returned from a swing through Eastern Europe that included a meeting with Ukrainian President VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY in Kyiv. “Even though it’s a lot of money, it’s a small investment relative to a world war.”
Eleven GOP senators opposed a procedural vote Monday on the Ukraine assistance bill, joining 57 House Republicans who rejected the measure last week. It comes as GOP lawmakers aligned with Trump, in addition to high-profile House and Senate candidates, are slamming the aid package as reckless and out of step with Americans’ needs. Even the conservative Heritage Foundation, typically hawkish on foreign policy, came out against it.
The issue has also permeated local U.S. elections ahead of Tuesday’s primaries. KATHY BARNETTE, who has gained steam in the Pennsylvania GOP Senate primary taking place on Tuesday, similarly went after McConnell with an “America First” argument.
“Why is Leader McConnell visiting Ukraine in the midst of the various crises right here in America?” she wrote on Twitter. “I believe it’s time to get elected officials in office who will put AMERICA FIRST… and that’s what I will do!”
It’s unlikely that the increasingly louder nationalist camp will derail the administration’s plan for Ukraine — it’s one of the rare bipartisan points of agreement. But as the war rages on, it’s possible McConnell et al. will have to contend with a wing of the party that wants less and less to do with the war — and greater focus on domestic problems.
Read the entirety of Desiderio’s story.
UKRAINE RETREATS FROM MARIUPOL: Ukraine has officially ended its “combat mission” in Mariupol, ending for now its resistance in the city and ceding the ground to Russia.
“Mariupol has been encircled by Russian troops since early March, suffering under weeks of brutal shelling. By late April, Moscow claimed it had taken the city. Since then, however, a small group of Ukrainian soldiers remained in the city, stationed at the Azovstal plant,” POLITICO Europe’s SERGEI KUZNETSOV and JULES DARMANIN reported. “Those soldiers are now being pulled out, Ukraine said. The general staff of Ukraine’s armed forces said in a statement published soon after midnight that 264 Ukrainian soldiers had been evacuated from the Azovstal plant.”
“Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister ANNA MALYAR said 53 severely wounded soldiers were taken to a hospital in Novoazovsk in Russian-controlled territory,” they further wrote.
“Ukraine needs its heroes alive,” Zelenskyy said in a late-night video address. “That’s our principle.” The president also thanked the Red Cross and United Nations for their help in the evacuation talks.
Taking Mariupol is a big win for Russia, which wanted the city to help build a land bridge from the Donbas to Crimea. Elsewhere, such as in Kharkiv in the northeast, Ukraine has been able to push back Russians close to the border, retaking a number of surrounding villages.
RETIRED RUSSIAN COLONEL SAYS INVASION NOT GOING WELL: In a stunning appearance on Russian state television, retired Col. MIKHAIL KHODARYONOK said that the invasion of Ukraine was proving ineffective and weakening Russia on the world stage.
“We are in total geopolitical isolation and the whole world is against us, even if we don’t want to admit it,” he said, noting that the country’s “resources, military-political and military-technical, are limited.”
“The situation for us will clearly get worse,” he concluded. The other guests, including the staunchly pro-Kremlin host OLGA SKABAYEVA, seemed stunned and unable to stop Khodaryonok from providing his analysis.
It’s unclear why Russian state-run outlets would let Khodaryonok on their programming. He’s a known critic of the invasion, arguing that Moscow’s forces can’t compete against a motivated and Western-backed Ukrainian force. He also wrote a Feb. 3 opinion article that the invasion wouldn’t go as VLADIMIR PUTIN had hoped.
Maybe he’s just the convenient foil on state TV. But it’s also possible his little speech reflects a growing view within the country — and even the Kremlin itself.
FIRST IN NATSEC DAILY — FORMER STATE SPOX STARTS NATSEC GROUP: MORGAN ORTAGUS, the State Department’s chief spokesperson during the Trump administration, has launched a new group called Polaris National Security. The organization, chock-full of former Trump administration and campaign aides on staff and other Republicans on the advisory team, will have a 501(c)(4) and PAC arm.
The advisory board to date includes: KIM BRIER, MICHAEL ALLEN, SIMONE LEDEEN, MORGAN VINA, DAVID STILWELL, CALE BROWN and KATIE MARTIN.
Ortagus told NatSec Daily that Polaris will be mainly focused on China, Russia, Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, supporting Israel and “holding the Biden administration accountable for their national security failures.”
“My goal is to make national security issues relevant to the American voters by linking those issues to everyday concerns like the price of energy/gas and immigration/drug/border/crime crises,” she texted, adding that there will be a bus tour in the fall. “We’re all Trump appointees mostly and candidates will want our checks and to work with us.”
National security-oriented Republicans are gearing up for the midterms. For example: JOHN BOLTON, Trump’s third national security adviser, has a PAC dedicated to raising the importance of security issues in the political debate.
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FORCED FIGHTERS IN TIGRAY: “Authorities in Ethiopia’s war-shattered Tigray region are forcing young people to join their army’s fight against the central government by threatening and jailing relatives, according to captured fighters and residents,” Reuters’ GIULIA PARAVINCI and KATHARINE HOURELD reported.
The Tigray People’s Liberation Front, known as the TPLF, is one of the anti-government forces fighting against the Ethiopian state since late 2020. The group says it’s defending millions against slaughter and subjugation by Prime Minister ABIY AHMED.
But interviews conducted by Reuters showed “some Tigrayans, who volunteered in droves earlier in the war, are becoming increasingly reluctant to fight in a conflict that has ground to a stalemate following a ceasefire in March.”
“KINDEYA GEBREHIWOT, from the Tigray external relations office, told Reuters by email that some low ranking government officials had detained family members to force their relatives to enlist but said such incidents were rare, the relatives had been released and the officials punished,” Paravinci and Houreld wrote.
DAVID SATTERFIELD remains the U.S. special envoy for the Horn of Africa even after reports indicated he planned to step down. It’s unclear what role he or his team are playing in ending the unrest in Ethiopia.
CYBERATTACKS HITS COSTA RICA: At least 27 Costa Rican institutions have been hit by a cyberattack in the last month, President RODRIGO CHAVES said late Monday, adding many of them have been “very affected.”
The strike has had an “enormous” effect on the nation’s ability to trade abroad and collect taxes, per Chaves, who’s in his first month in office. But the new president didn’t publicly update the list of government institutions impacted by the growing cyber outbreak.
“In mid-April, outgoing President CARLOS ALVARADO‘s government reported hacker attacks on the country’s finance ministry, which spread to other state institutions after authorities refused to pay a $10 million ransom demanded by the Russian hacker group Conti,” Reuters reported.
“We are at war and that is not an exaggeration,” Chaves said at his May 8 inauguration.
It’s another sign of the effect ransomware gangs are having on global security.
PENTAGON PLEDGES UFO STUDIES: RONALD MOULTRIE, the Defense Department’s undersecretary for intelligence, told a subcommittee of the House Intelligence Committee today that the Pentagon would apply “rigorous scientific analysis” to learning the origin of UFOs and commit “to a focused effort to determine their origins,” per our own BRYAN BENDER.
“[I]t is the Department’s contention that, by combining appropriately structured collected data with rigorous scientific analysis, any object that we encounter can likely be isolated, characterized, identified, and, if necessary, mitigated,” Moultrie said in his prepared testimony. That includes whether the reports can be explained by potential technological breakthroughs by allies or adversaries, secret U.S. vehicles or “commercial platforms,” or “natural or other phenomena.”
Don’t get too excited about alien sightings, just yet.
Moultrie also offered a fairly limited definition for “unexplained aerial phenomena,” the government’s term for UFOs. He described them as “airborne objects that, when encountered, cannot be immediately identified.” His prepared testimony did not address some of their reported characteristics that defy known aerodynamics, nor did it mention reports of craft appearing to transition to and from the sea, the air and space.
SENATE GROUP BACKS FINLAND AND SWEDEN JOINING NATO: The Senate’s NATO Observer Group is staunchly in favor of Sweden and Finland joining the alliance.
“The Senate NATO Observer Group welcomes today’s announcement by Finland and Sweden that they will begin the formal application process to join the NATO Alliance in pursuit of peace and prosperity in Europe,” said Sens. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D-N.H.) and THOM TILLIS (R-N.C.), co-chairs of the bipartisan coalition. “Finland and Sweden are longstanding NATO partners who already share the collective values that guide our alliance. This demonstration of their intent proves that there are different paths to NATO membership, and we welcome the addition of two highly-capable and enduring partners to join the alliance officially.”
Both countries need the legislatures of all 30 NATO members to approve their accession to the alliance. All signs point to Congress fast-tracking the approval.
MENENDEZ MAD ABOUT CUBA: Sen. BOB MENENDEZ (D-N.J.) unloaded on the Biden administration for lifting Trump-era travel restrictions to Cuba.
“For years, the United States foolishly eased travel restrictions arguing millions of American dollars would bring about freedom and nothing changed. And as I warned then, the regime ultimately laughed off any promises of loosening its iron grip on the Cuban people and we ended up helping fund the machinery behind their continued oppression,” the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chief said in a statement. The U.S. must “reaffirm our nation’s indiscriminate commitment to fight for democracy from Kyiv to Havana, and make clear we will measure our success in freedom and human rights and not money and commerce.”
Menendez has long been a staunch Cuba hawk, battling against his party’s inclination to reshape America’s Cold War-inspired policy toward the island. It’s expected that Menendez will continue to rail against this decision from his SFRC perch, though there’s no indication Congress can actively thwart the president’s announced changes.
The U.S. announced Tuesday that it would ease some sanctions on Venezuela to encourage talks between the American-backed opposition and President NICOLÁS MADURO. Menendez is likely to blast that decision, too.
— FIRST IN NATSEC DAILY: SEAN SAVETT and SALONI SHARMA will be promoted to deputy spokespersons of the National Security Council.
— JASON DEAREN, JULIET LINDERMAN and OLEKSANDR STASHEVSKYI, The Associated Press: “War Crimes Watch: Targeting Schools, Russia Bombs the Future”
— PATRICK PORTER, JUSTIN LOGAN and BENJAMIN H. FRIEDMAN, POLITICO Europe: “Opinion: We’re Not All Ukrainians Now”
— WILL KNIGHT, Wired: “The US Military Is Building Its Own Metaverse”
— Defense Secretary LLOYD AUSTIN welcomes Swedish Defense Minister PETER HULTQVIST to the Pentagon.
— The East-West Center in Washington and American University, 8 a.m.: “Assessing U.S.-ASEAN Relations: The 2022 Special Summit and Beyond — with AMITAV ACHARYA, MURRAY HIEBERT, DANIEL J. KRITENBRINK, CHENG-CHWEE KUIK, MARC MEALY and more”
— House Armed Services Committee, 8 a.m.: “Subcommittee Hearing: Department of the Navy Fiscal Year 2023 Budget Request for Seapower and Projection Forces — with SCOTT CONN, KARSTEN HECKL and JAY STEFANY”
— The International Institute for Strategic Studies, 8:30 a.m.: “Human Security in an Evolving Global Landscape — with ADRIANA ABDENUR, GREG AUSTIN, SARAH F. CLIFFE, PEDRO CONCEIÇÃO, DES GASPER and ALEXANDRE MARC”
— The Brookings Institution, 9 a.m.: “South Korea’s Role in the Indo-Pacific: Opportunities and Challenges Under the Yoon Administration — with KUYOUN CHUNG, ZACK COOPER, KEI KOGA, TANVI MADAN, SARAH TEO and ANDREW YEO”
— The Center for Strategic and International Studies, 9 a.m.: “Lt. Gen. MICHAEL A. GUETLEIN on What’s Next for Space Systems Command — with CYNTHIA COOK”
— The Center for Strategic and International Studies, 9 a.m.: “Press Briefing: Previewing Biden’s Trip to Asia, Part Two — Quadrilateral Security Dialogue — with CHARLES EDEL, YUKO NAKANO, RICHARD M. ROSSOW and NICHOLAS SZECHENYI”
— The Peterson Institute for International Economics, 9 a.m.: “Next Steps for U.S.-EU Trade and Tech Cooperation — with PETER HARRELL, CECILIA MALMSTRÖM and SABINE WEYAND”
— The Potomac Officers Club, 9 a.m.: “2022 Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification Forum — with STACY BOSTJANICK, JOHN ELLIS, TOMMY GARDNER, TERRY KALKA, SAIF RAHMAN and more”
— House Appropriations Committee, 10 a.m.: “Subcommittee Hearing: Fiscal Year 2023 Budget Request for the Transportation Security Administration — with DAVID PEKOSKE”
— House Appropriations Committee, 10 a.m.: “Subcommittee Hearing: Fiscal Year 2023 United States Navy and Marine Corps Budget — with DAVID H. BERGER, MICHAEL M. GILDAY and CARLOS DEL TORO”
— House Armed Services Committee, 10 a.m.: “Subcommittee Hearing: Department of Defense Information Technology, Digital Developments and Artificial Intelligence for Fiscal Year 2023 — with KELLY FLETCHER, MARGARET PALMIERI and JOHN SHERMAN”
— House Foreign Affairs Committee, 10 a.m.: “Full Committee Hearing: Virtual Public Roundtable on the Ukraine Refugee Crisis — with OKSANA NECHYPORENKO and JOHNATHAN ORNSTEIN”
— Senate Appropriations Committee, 10 a.m.: “Subcommittee Hearing: Fiscal Year 2023 Budget Submission for National Nuclear Security Administration — with MARVIN L. ADAMS, JAMES F. ‘FRANK’ CALDWELL JR., COREY HINDERSTEIN and JILL HRUBY”
— Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 10 a.m.: “Full Committee Hearing: Nominations — with MARI CARMEN APONTE, ELIZABETH FRAWLEY BAGLEY and FRANCISCO O. MORA”
— House Appropriations Committee, 10:30 a.m.: “Subcommittee Hearing: Navy and Marine Corps Installations and Quality of Life Update — with EDWARD BANTA, MEREDITH BERGER, TROY BLACK, RUSSEL SMITH and RICKY WILLIAMSON”
— The Atlantic Council, 11 a.m.: “Wartime Content Moderation and the Russian Invasion of Ukraine — with EMERSON T. BROOKING, RENEE DIRESTA, MARWA FATAFTA, KATIE HARBATH and KATE KLONICK”
— The Atlantic Council, 1 p.m.: “How the Taliban Takeover Impacts Iran — with FATEMEH AMAN, BORZOU DARAGAHI, NILOFAR SAKHI and BARBARA SLAVIN”
— The Government Executive Media Group, 1 p.m.: “Digital Threats: How Schools Are Combating Ransomware — with FADI FAHIL, AARON HIGBEE, GEORGE JACKSON, DOUG LEVIN and BHARGAV A. VYAS”
— The Brookings Institution, 2 p.m.: “Challenges Facing the Horn of Africa — with VANDA FELBAB-BROWN, JEFFREY FELTMAN, WORKNEH GEBEYEHU and MICHAEL E. O’HANLON”
— House Armed Services Committee, 2 p.m.: “Subcommittee Hearing: Professional Military Education and the National Defense Strategy — with JOAN JOHNSON-FREESE, STUART B. MUNSCH, ROBERT E. SCHMIDLE JR. and SHAWN G. SKELLY”
— House Foreign Affairs Committee, 2 p.m.: “Subcommittee Hearing: The Impact of Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine in the Middle East and North Africa — with HANNA NOTTE, GRANT RUMLEY, FREDERIC WEHREY and CAITLIN WELSH”
— Washington Post Live, 2:30 p.m.: “Securing Cyberspace — with BOB KOLASKY, MICHAEL MCCAUL and ELISSA SLOTKIN”
— The Federalist Society, 3 p.m.: “From Russia Without Love: U.S. Energy Policy, Environmental Goals, Foreign Wars, and the Administrative State — with TRISTAN ABBEY, ERIC GRANT, RYAN NELSON and JULIA OLSON”
— House Judiciary Committee, 3 p.m.: “Subcommittee Hearing: Oversight of Immigrant Military Members and Veterans — with CHRISTOPHER ARENDT, JENNIFER MACDONALD and DEBRA ROGERS”
— The Atlantic Council, 3:30 p.m.: “A Conversation with the Prime Minister of the Republic of Kosovo ALBIN KURTI — with DAMIR MARUSIC”
— Senate Appropriations Committee, 3:30 p.m.: “Subcommittee Hearing: Fiscal Year 2023 Budget Request for Military Construction and Family Housing — with EDWARD BANTA, WARREN BERRY, PAUL CRAMER, JASON EVANS, BRUCE HOLLYWOOD and RICKY WILLIAMSON”
— The International Institute for Strategic Studies, 4:30 p.m.: “IISS-Americas Summer Event Series: Reassessing Cyber Power After the Ukraine War — with GREG AUSTIN and E.J. HEROLD”
— Senate Armed Services Committee, 4:30 p.m.: “Subcommittee Hearing: Missile Defense Strategy, Policies and Programs in Review of the Defense Authorization Request for Fiscal Year 2023 and the Future Years Defense Program — with JON HILL, DAVID HONEY, DANIEL KARBLER, JOHN PLUMB and GLEN VANHERCK”
Have a natsec-centric event coming up? Transitioning to a new defense-adjacent or foreign policy-focused gig? Shoot us an email at [email protected] or [email protected] to be featured in the next edition of the newsletter.
And thanks to our editor, Ben Pauker, who often tells us our skills on matters “military-technical are limited.”