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Rep. Adam Kinzinger says politicizing Russia-Ukraine crisis hurts Washington

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

As Russian forces continue their attack on Ukraine, the United States is ramping up its response, too, even beyond the economic sanctions imposed by the Biden administration against Moscow and the Russian president and his associates. Yesterday, for example, Secretary of State Antony Blinken authorized deliveries of an additional $350 million in U.S. military assistance to Ukraine. We're going to talk about that now with Congressman Adam Kinzinger, Republican from Illinois and a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Congressman, welcome. Thank you for joining us.

ADAM KINZINGER: You bet. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: You've called for more U.S. military assistance for Ukraine after Russia launched its invasion. First, I want to ask your reaction to the deliveries authorized yesterday by the State Department. And if you don't think that's sufficient, what would additional support look like?

KINZINGER: Well, it's obviously good that they're doing it. The questions we have now is, you know, simple logistics. How are we getting those weapons, that assistance in? I mean, obviously, if we could roll back the clock, we should have sent a lot more a lot longer ago. But given where we are today, we need to send that in. And I don't know the details of what that assistance is, but I'm hoping - and if not, I'm calling - for things like the Stinger missiles that need to go in that can actually give Ukraine a fighting chance against some of the air power. The fact that the air is still contested over Ukraine, despite the fact that, you know, Russia has a superior air force, says a lot. Certainly, Ukraine has made the decision to fight. Certainly, they just need the materials to do it because they certainly don't lack the will.

MARTIN: I want to talk about public opinion in the United States, and I specifically want to ask about how some of your fellow Republicans have been reacting. I mean, on Tuesday, the official House GOP Twitter account, the House Republican account, tweeted, "this is what weakness on the world stage looks like," unquote, and added a photo of Biden walking away from the lectern at a press conference. And then you responded to this by saying you condemn it. You think this is divisive. It's bad for the country. It's bad for the sense of what we need to project to the Russians. What - how do you understand that? Like, what do you think is going on there? And tell me more about your reaction to that.

KINZINGER: Everything is politics. I mean, that's where we're at in this country. Everything is seen - no matter if the West is at threat, no matter what's going on now - everything is seen as through the lens of what can this mean for us, for the next election? There used to be a day in this country when we believed that politics ended at the water's edge. And unfortunately, a lot of my colleagues, while they are caught in their embarrassing past remarks, somewhat supportive of Vladimir Putin, they now have pivoted to saying, well, we can't support Putin, but what we can do is attack Joe Biden for weakness. And I would take you back to the very interesting point that, initially, some of my colleagues in the Republican Party would be sympathetic to Vladimir Putin. And now those same people are saying that Joe Biden is not doing enough. I mean, pick. Be consistent. If you like Vladimir Putin, be consistent in that. But playing politics is damaging this country, and I can guarantee you China is watching that.

MARTIN: So before we let you go, I want to ask how you assess President Biden's handling of the crisis so far? Is there something you think he's doing well? Is there something you think he should be doing better? And I'm also interested in whether you think he needs to speak more about whatever pocket of admiration for Putin exists in the United States. For whatever reason, do you think he needs to speak more to that? So, you know, how would you assess his performance so far? And is there something you think he should do differently?

KINZINGER: Yeah. I mean, look, I think, given where we're at now, at this moment, it would be OK. Obviously, some of the sanctions were good. I think it's going to depend on what happens with things, for instance, with the SWIFT transaction system and whether Europe and the United States pull Russia from that. I think the president needs to speak out a lot more. The American people right now, when I would have guessed five days ago, the vast majority either didn't care about what happened in Ukraine or said the U.S. has no interest there, I think that number has flipped on its head, and the president needs to lead public opinion on that. I don't think he's done the best job he could possibly do, but I also don't think he's utterly failing at this. I think the reality is not just Ukraine but the West is a threat in this war, and it's important - this is the moment to stand up because we're going to have to do it eventually if we don't.

MARTIN: That's Congressman Adam Kinzinger. He's a Republican from Illinois. Congressman, thank you so much for speaking with us and sharing your perspective.

KINZINGER: You bet. Anytime.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.