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WASHINGTON — Republican senators broke with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday over his remarks that defending Ukraine against Russian aggression was not a “vital” American interest.
“I strongly disagree with his comments,” said Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., the prominent member of the Armed Services Committee.
About half a dozen of Wicker’s GOP colleagues expressed varying degrees of opposition to DeSantis’ remarks Monday night on Fox News.
High-profile comments by DeSantis, a potential 2024 presidential candidate whom many GOP elites expect to be the leading alternative to former President Donald Trump, are escalating an in-party clash between security hawks who want to preserve the post-WWII order and a right-wing populist wing seeking to withdraw from world affairs.
Senator Kevin Cramer, RN.D., told NBC News: “I would definitely hate to send a signal to [Russian President] Vladimir Putin that we don’t care about him, and I sure would hate to send a signal to other allies around the world that you are alone. Because it could lead to nuclear proliferation that we have avoided for decades. So no, I think it’s in our interest.
Cramer, who has otherwise praised DeSantis, said he was “not super surprised” by the remarks, as DeSantis navigates a complicated dynamic with the party base.
“We have a base that’s turbulent, and if he’s running for president, he probably needs to talk to that base a bit,” Cramer said. “And that’s not to say that’s not his position, but I think if he’s the President of the United States and he has all that power, then I hope he’s informed enough about the details to make the decision. But I also hope that this post evolves a little.
Senior Intelligence Committee member Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., dismissed DeSantis’ view that Russia’s war in Ukraine was a “territorial dispute” between two sides.
“It’s not a territorial dispute in the sense that – any more than it would be a territorial dispute if the United States decided it wanted to invade Canada or take over the Bahamas,” Rubio told the host. radio curator Hugh Hewitt. “Just because someone claims something doesn’t mean it belongs to them. It’s an invasion.”
Rubio added, “I don’t know what he’s trying to do or what his goal is. Obviously he doesn’t deal with foreign policy every day as governor.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, RS.C., said DeSantis’ comments reflected a “misunderstanding of the situation.”
“It’s not a territorial dispute. It’s a war of aggression,” he said, adding that DeSantis has been “a great governor, but in my opinion, if you don’t understand the Ukraine is a chance to stop Putin before it becomes a bigger war.” – and China is watching.
Senate Minority Whip John Thune, RS.D., said, “I have a different view than that” when pressed about DeSantis. “There is a diversity of opinion, as you know, among our party members.”
Many Republicans have said protecting Ukraine is ultimately about protecting the United States and its allies in Europe.
“They are of vital interest,” said Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala. “We are basically protecting NATO and Europe.” But he said there is a valid debate about how far the United States can go in terms of helping Ukraine. “We’re broke,” he said. “We need to have a better plan.”
Senator John Kennedy, R-La., said, “I don’t want America to be the policeman of the world, but I don’t want Vladimir Putin or [Chinese President] Neither is Xi Jinping the policeman of the world. I never considered our aid to Ukraine as charity. I saw this as self-preservation.
Other Republicans have said the issue will spark debate in the primaries.
“It’s something that I think anyone interested in working as the next President of the United States really needs a full briefing before they decide to make up their minds on this particular issue,” said Sen. Mike Rounds. . , RS.D., told reporters.
“So we’ll see how it pans out. But we have a number of people who I think are looking at the 2024 race, and we’ll see if others feel the same way or not.
Kate Santaliz contributed.