The US Senate Republicans and Democrats blasted the administration for not acting immediately to help in the transfer of aircraft to Ukraine, a sign of daylight emerging between Congress and the White House on Ukraine after weeks of unity on Capitol Hill.
Members on both sides of the aisle during a Foreign Relations Committee hearing this morning challenged the administration about why the US isnt helping facilitate planes to Ukraine that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said are desperately needed. They warned that Congress may take further action on banning Russian energy imports that go beyond what was passed by the House of Representatives and is backed by President Joe Biden’s administration.
“It’s not clear why we are standing in the way,” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat from New Hampshire, told CNN about the US’s position that it would not be appropriate to send Poland planes so that Poland could transfer their planes to Ukraine.
Over the last several days, members have come to believe that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken share differing views on how to handle a potential transfer of aircraft to Poland that would facilitate Poland to transfer planes directly to Ukraine, a difference that has enraged some members on Capitol Hill who have come to see the administration itself as fracturing.
Sen. Jim Risch, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, told CNN it was an “embarrassing” division.
“The first branch of government is almost unanimously on this. I don’t know who is against this up here, but it’s embarrassing for the second branch of government to be divided. This is a job for the President of the United States. He needs to step up. Knock heads together and get everybody in the same place,” Risch said. “We really need to do that. This is a matter of life and death.”
Risch said the Pentagon’s explanation that a plane transfer could be perceived as escalatory by the Russians is “nonsense.”
“We’re taking their yachts, we’re taking their vacation properties, we are giving the Ukrainians all the arms we can give them. It is foolish to say this is somehow going to aggravate them more. That’s nonsense,” he said.
GOP Sen. Rob Portman, who has been outspoken on this issue, told CNN that he believed that it was not the Biden administration’s place to be making decisions for Ukraine on what their military strategy should be and if they wanted planes, and the US needed to do everything in its power to help them.
“The administration just told us they think Ukraine needs other things more and would be more effective in the battlefield. In theory, that means that you have the United States government deciding what the military strategy should be for Ukraine,” Portman said. “Ukraine wants planes. They have made a decision.”
Some Democrats, however, argue that Congress should give the administration more room to make the decisions for how they want to approach this conflict without “micromanaging.”
“I generally trust the administration’s decision making,” Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, told CNN. “I think this is a time when we should get behind the administration rather than constantly second-guessing.”