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The GOP’s Great Betrayal

David Frum The Atlantic
Thought Leader: David Frum
January 29, 2024
Source: The Atlantic
Written by: David Frum

Written by WWSG exclusive thought leader, David Frum.

Congressional Republicans are blocking crucial aid to Israel and Ukraine out of sheer servility to Trump.

On January 17, House Speaker Mike Johnson led a candlelight vigil at the Capitol to mark the recent passing of the 100th day of hostage-holding by Hamas terrorists in Gaza. Members of Congress assembled shoulder to shoulder with families of hostages. The Republican speaker delivered a heartfelt speech. “We must stand together in solidarity with the Jewish people,” he said. “And we will, from the synagogues in Brooklyn to the country churches of my home in northwest Louisiana, from the Senate to the House—we support Israel, believing that we can overcome the darkness with light.”

This weekend, Congress sees another 100-day anniversary go by—this one dating from when President Joe Biden requested $106 billion in emergency defense aid for Israel and Ukraine, as well as additional funding for border enforcement.

For those 100 days, Congress has refused to act on Biden’s request. The main obstacle is the House of Representatives, and within the House, the pro-Trump MAGA caucus that toppled the previous speaker, Kevin McCarthy. The MAGA caucus then vetoed McCarthy’s most eligible successors, eventually bringing the ultra-Trumpist Johnson to his high office, which is second only to the vice president in the presidential succession.

Johnson has advertised himself as a friend of Israel. He scheduled hearings so that House members could interrogate college presidents about their failure to prevent anti-Semitic harassment on campus. Two of those presidents ultimately lost their job: the University of Pennsylvania’s Liz Magill and Harvard’s Claudine Gay.

But when it comes to aiding allies in a shooting war, rather than a culture war, suddenly Johnson and his caucus are nowhere to be found.

Ukraine depends on U.S. aid to keep fighting. Congress’s inaction—meaning, again, the inaction of Johnson and his MAGA caucus—has curtailed the flow of supplies to Ukraine. Frontline reports say that Ukrainian units are compelled to ration ammunition, conceding the artillery advantage to the Russian invader.

Israel has mobilized so much of its population to fight Hamas and deter other terrorist groups that its civilian economy is greatly impaired. As of mid-November, Israel reported almost $8 billion in emergency borrowing to fund its defense spending. The national budget approved in January projects a $19 billion increase in government expenditures and a $10 billion drop in government revenues in the year ahead.

Republicans insisted on linking Ukraine and Israel aid to border enforcement. In deference to their wishes, Biden also sought $14 billion for border enforcement. Among other purposes, the money would fund the hiring of nearly 6,000 new employees, including 375 additional immigration judges. Many of today’s border-crossers will claim asylum, a status protected by U.S. law and treaties. A large majority of those claims will ultimately be rejected. But because of the new mass of claims, processing has greatly slowed. Once a claim is filed, an asylum seeker can look forward to being released into the country and a delay of years before they are ordered to leave.

Congress can and should reform the much-abused asylum system. Pending a rewrite of the law, the executive branch needs resources to hasten the adjudication of claims that lack merit. The more judges deployed, the faster the claims will be heard. The faster the claims are heard, the sooner rejected applicants can be removed. The prompt removal of rejected applicants will in turn send a strong message around the world that would-be migrants should stay home rather than pay a human trafficker thousands of dollars to help them game the U.S. immigration system.

In November, House Republicans passed an Israel-only aid bill. But the bill was written to be rejected. It appropriated $14 billion of Israel aid only by cutting $14 billion out of the IRS budget. Not only would this have been a gift to tax cheats, but the cut specified that the IRS must zero out its pilot program designed to spare taxpayers the expense of software and tax professionals. The big tax-preparation companies have spent millions of dollars lobbying Congress to prevent direct filing. So when Hamas murdered 1,200 people in their homes and workplaces, House Republicans seized the opportunity to come to the rescue not of Israel but of TurboTax.

The Biden record on national-security policy gives plenty of basis for criticism. A normal opposition party would have been investigating why the administration was caught so unprepared by the collapse of the Afghan military in 2021. U.S. military assistance to Kyiv was dangerously stingy in the year before Russia’s invasion in February 2022, as Adrian Karatnycky’s forthcoming history of contemporary Ukraine details.

Since the invasion, the Biden administration has hesitated on many occasions to provide potentially decisive weapons for fear of aggravating Moscow. When the White House eventually got over those qualms, the fears were each time exposed as groundless. Yet the lesson was never learned for the next round. And now, in the Red Sea, the Biden administration has so far refrained from decisive action to deter the attacks on international shipping by Iran’s Houthi proxies in Yemen.

Some Republicans—those still willing to act as members of a normal opposition party—have indeed criticized the Biden administration for being too tardy or too timid against this threat or that. In October, the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, rightly accused the president of “prolonging” the war in Ukraine by offering only half measures.

It’s a valid complaint that Biden failed to send all he could, when he could. But why is the complaint valid?

Because the background political reality is that Donald Trump is an enemy of Ukraine and an admirer of the Russian dictator Vladimir Putin. As Trump has neared renomination, his party—especially in the House of Representatives—has surrendered to his pro-Putin pressure. Biden overestimated the time available to keep aid flowing to Ukraine because he underestimated the servility of House Republicans to Trump’s anti-Ukraine animus.

At the same time, the GOP’s presumptive nominee has reportedly been pressuring Senate Republicans to reject a deal on the spending package, because candidate Trump does not want Biden awarded any win, particularly one that involves enhancing border security, in this election year. So vital aid to Israel and Ukraine must be delayed and put in further doubt because of a rejected president’s spite and his party’s calculation of electoral advantage.

The true outcome of the fiasco in Congress will be the collapse of U.S. credibility all over the world. American allies will seek protection from more trustworthy partners, and America itself will be isolated and weakened.

The 100 days of shame that have already passed are a prelude to worse disasters to come. The House Republicans have a majority of only six (219 to 213). On that slim margin hangs the good name of the United States and the security of countries that have been able to trust American promises for decades. All the candles in the world will not compensate for the betrayal under way.

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