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OPINION: Risch, Fulcher split on Ukraine aid

by CHUCK MALLOY/Guest Opinion
| December 22, 2023 1:00 AM

Idaho Congressman Russ Fulcher is not one of the most sought-after talking heads for TV network news programs. Fulcher does not serve on a high-profile committee, such as Foreign Affairs, and he doesn’t go out of his way to seek the spotlight.

But there he was, not long ago, appearing on ABC News to talk about — of all things — aid to Ukraine. And his talking points were in line with the thinking of House Speaker Mike Johnson and other Republicans.

“I was the congressional poster child,” he told me. He probably received a few “attaboys” for his performance.

“I’m one of the Republicans who have a problem with sending a blank check to Ukraine,” he told ABC News.

His main reservations are twofold. The U.S. should be spending more of its efforts on the southern border, where there are about 12,000 crossings per day. Secondly, he said, President Biden has not effectively outlined the case for funding to Ukraine, or identified what constitutes victory.

“We’ve already spent $113 billion in resources to Ukraine and we don’t know what the clear mission is,” he said. Without answers, “there’s going to be a problem getting support in the U.S. House. Until the president addresses those things — serious reform, serious attention to our southern border — it’s a deal-breaker. Until he gives significant clarity on what the mission is, and what he characterizes a win in Ukraine, it’s a show-stopper.”

Fulcher is at odds with Idaho Sen. Jim Risch, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. No … there’s no big rift in the Idaho congressional delegation — it’s just a difference of opinion. Fulcher acknowledges that Risch makes compelling arguments for supporting continued aid to Ukraine. And Risch says Fulcher’s reservations are justifiable.

“I am not voting for a national security package that does not include the southern border,” Risch told me. “Our view is we need to shut down the border, and 49 (Republican) senators are locked into that. Our border needs to be taken care of before we talk about other borders, and Russ and I are in 100 percent agreement about that.”

Risch also agrees that Biden has not made a strong case for giving aid to Ukraine. “It’s not just with that issue. His ability to articulate these things is fading by the day,” Risch said. “But I have an advantage. This is my lane. I have a clear vision of where we are and where we need to go, and I don’t rely on Joe Biden to lay out a path forward.”

There are legal reasons why the U.S. must provide aid, Risch said. In 1994, the U.S. signed an agreement with Ukraine that offered protection for the country if it would abolish its nuclear weapons. “We gave our word, and now we need to keep our word.”

A second reason, he said, is “Putin is not going to stop with Ukraine” if he wins the war. If we end up in war with Russia, what we’re spending here is a drop in the bucket by comparison. I deal with this every day and it’s on my mind every day. The national security of the United States, the safety of the American people, the safety of Idahoans, depends not just on our army or weapons, or the people that operate them. It also depends upon the various defense agreements that we have around the world. If we abandon Ukraine and throw in the towel — as some would like us to do — that is going to drastically change how people vew the United States, and how people rely on the United States and there will be major consequences.”

Getting out of Ukraine, “I believe would set up the largest arms race that the planet has ever seen.”

In the end, Risch thinks the congressional support will be there. He estimates that of 100 senators, only about eight are opposed to aid. “Maybe that number is closer to six. I don’t think opposition is growing. The same people who are opposing it have been skeptical all along. It’s true that they are more vocal.”

Risch was hoping that the issue would be resolved before Congress broke for the holidays, but he anticipates negotiations progressing more favorably when Congress returns in January.

We’ll see if his forecast holds up.

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Chuck Malloy, a longtime Idaho journalist and Silver Valley native, is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly. He may be reached at ctmalloy@outlook.com.