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Bill Straub: Ukraine aid is on the line — and Sen. Paul is on the side with Russia’s Vladimir Putin

Well, whadayaknow, John McCain was right all along.

McCain, the Arizona Republican with a curriculum vitae that notably includes his status as a prisoner-of-war, a U.S. senator and a candidate for president, who died five years ago, was no great fan of one particular colleague, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Bowling Green, who he once memorably characterized as a “whacko bird.”

McCain particularly didn’t much care for Paul snuggling up to Russia President Vladimir Putin who, it is fair to say, doesn’t hold the United States in high regard. Back in March 2017, that annoyance burst asunder when Paul sought to block a measure endorsing Montenegro’s bid to enter NATO, an endeavor McCain said was “achieving the objectives of Vladimir Putin.”

“He has no justification for his objection to having a small nation be part of NATO that is under assault from the Russians,” McCain said on the Senate floor. “So, I repeat again, the senator from Kentucky is now working for Vladimir Putin.”

The NKyTribune’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com

So, let’s move on to Wednesday. Ukraine finds itself mired in an unprovoked war with Russia, still under Putin’s thumb, as The Bear seeks to further expand its international influence. The U.S. under President Biden, seeking to assure national sovereignty around the world and uphold the ideals of democracy. has sided with Ukraine, thus far expending about $76 billion in military, humanitarian and financial aid in its behalf.

Biden is now seeking an additional $24 billion for Ukraine. The current federal budget year ends on Sept. 30. Congress, as is its wont, is in no position to adopt an appropriations package for the upcoming fiscal year, which is closing in fast, thus rendering it necessary for lawmakers to adopt a continuing resolution to keep the federal government operating beyond the deadline. Biden wants the $24 billion included in that short term spending package.

While the House dithers, helplessly flummoxed under incompetent House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-CA, and unable to proceed under the hostage conditions imposed by the chamber’s radical right wing, both Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, of New York, and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, of Louisville, are amenable to the president’s request.

Enter Rand Paul, generally recognized as Putin’s favorite senator, who has made it clear he intends to gum up the works, just like he did in the Montenegro episode, which nonetheless ultimately resulted in the nation joining NATO.

Writing on X, Paul announced, “Today I’m putting congressional leadership & @POTUS on notice I will oppose any effort to hold the federal government hostage for Ukraine funding. I will not consent to expedited passage of any spending measure that provides any more US aid to Ukraine.”

Old Vlad couldn’t have said it any better himself.

Paul drew the line this week while Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky was in Washington DC seeking additional support – “begging for more money” in Rand’s parlance – for his nation’s efforts defying Putin the war criminal.

In a rare double-whammy, it should be noted if the Senate includes the $24 billion in the continuing resolution and Paul intercedes, utilizing the often mind-bogglingly stupid Senate rules that permit a single lawmaker to delay legislation, it’s likely the chamber will run out of time to pass it in time to keep the government open, resulting in a shutdown.

Despite protests to the contrary, Paul has served as a Putin acolyte for years. In April 2022, for instance during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing featuring Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Paul said there was “no justification’’ for the Russian invasion and then proceeded to offer a justification, asserting that Putin had qualms about the possibility of Ukraine joining NATO and pointed a finger at the Biden administration for “beating the drums to admit Ukraine” to the alliance.

In a later exchange, Paul suggested that Putin likely was motivated because Ukraine, like other countries Russia has invaded was “part of Russia…part of the Soviet Union.”

Which it is not.

All of these excuses could have come directly from Putin’s mouth.

Despite Paul’s threats, others are going to bat for Ukraine. Besides Biden, perhaps the most significant defense of America’s involvement comes from Paul’s fellow Kentuckian and former best pal in all the world, McConnell, who has been a Kyiv stalwart from the get-go. But, for purely political reasons, rather than make the case for further Ukraine aid, McConnell has sought to place the onus of declining Republican support on Biden, the most ardent spokesman for the cause.

In fact, Mitch began his remarks on the Senate floor on Wednesday by incongruously arguing that, despite Paul’s claims that the administration is doing too much, Biden hasn’t done enough in Ukraine’s behalf, claiming “he focused on lowering tensions with Moscow with giveaways like the five-year extension of the New START treaty rather than shipping lethal weapons to Ukraine to help shore up their defenses.”

“Unfortunately, for all his lofty rhetoric about Ukraine, the president’s actual approach to Russia’s escalation – his passive, indecisive leadership – has risked prolonging the war and jeopardized public support for our efforts,” McConnell said, even though it’s members of his own party in the House and, of course, Rand Paul, who are erecting barriers to additional funding.

One of the reasons behind Zelensky’s visit this week involves Republicans. They control the House… at least somewhat… and are growing wobbly while Democrats and Biden remain steadfast. Biden can’t send arms to Ukraine without congressional approval, and that’s the rub. Support among Republicans is waning. Chiding Biden on this point is the same old, silly, Mitch pitch. If McConnell wants to retain support for the Kyiv government, he might want to try convincing members of his own party.

Meanwhile, 28 Republican lawmakers from both the House and the Senate, including Paul, Sen. JD Vance, of Ohio, Sen. Tommy Tuberville, of Alabama and Sen. Mike Braun, of Indiana, have signed a letter sent to the Office of Management and Budget declaring that they will not vote to approve another Ukrainian aid package

But, in Mitch world, Biden is the problem.

Nice try.

McConnell maintained he was “clear-eyed about the threat of Russian aggression long before Russia’s initial intrusion into Ukraine affairs when Putin seized Crimea in 2014 and has urged presidents of both parties “to take steps to help Ukraine deter Russian aggression before it escalated.”

Following a secret visit to Ukraine in May 2022, McConnell was uncharacteristically blunt.

“Defending the principle of sovereignty, promoting stability in Europe and imposing costs on Russia’s naked aggression have a direct and vital bearing on America’s national security and vital interests,” McConnell said. “It is squarely in our national interest to help Ukraine achieve victory in this war and to help Ukraine and other countries deter other wars of aggression before they start.”

On the Senate floor, he said, “The United States isn’t arming Ukraine out of its sense of charity. We’re backing a fellow democracy because it is in our direct interest to do so. If we fail to help Ukraine stop Russia in its tracks, there’s every reason to believe Russia and China will both be emboldened.”

Pulling the plug at this stage, McConnell said, “would be far more ruinous than our disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan.”

But Rand Paul isn’t listening. He never does. His form of nihilism, camouflaged as libertarianism, is only invoked to rip the federal government apart, never build it up.

You know, it’s admittedly melodramatic, though accurate, to note at this time that on Sept. 30, 1938, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain signed the Munich Pact, handing the Sudetenland over to Hitler and Germany on a silver platter, with Chamberlain proclaiming the agreement would bring “peace in our time.”

Less than a year later, on Sept. 1. 1939, Germany invaded Poland.

But whacko birds gotta fly.

• • • • • •

I rise on a point of personal privilege: I’m not going to lie. Former Gov. Brereton Jones, who died this week at 84, and I didn’t get along all that well. Part of it was, of course, the usual friction between a reporter and a public official. It started during the 1991 campaign when he suddenly switched from being anti-death penalty to pro-death penalty, assuming the new position so avidly that he wanted to extend it to drug traffickers. I thought it was done for purely political reasons and things went downhill from there.

Regardless, Jones served admirably, instilled a desperately needed ethics upgrade within the executive branch, championed the horse industry he loved so much, and tried to reform the commonwealth’s horrendous health care system. All of those goals were worthy. There were no major scandals within his administration and he was, by all accounts, a good family man. That’s more than enough to say his presence will be missed and he served the public admirably. God speed.

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