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Biden calls on a small but powerful minority of House Republicans to pass foreign aid

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Let's continue the debate over U.S. support for the war in Ukraine. The Senate approved bipartisan aid which faces an uncertain future in the House. Republicans set the agenda there. And Donald Trump, the party leader, has said he opposes the measure. House Republicans now deciding what to do include Representative Andy Harris of Maryland. His mother immigrated from Ukraine, and Harris has served as co-chair of the House Ukraine Caucus supporting the fight against Russia. He is now critical of the $60 billion in Ukraine funding that passed the Senate. What changed for you?

ANDY HARRIS: Well, I still support Ukraine funding to a limited extent, much more limited than before, because I think that our European colleagues should step up. They have stepped up recently, but I think they should be bearing the largest cost of this. And, you know, that's not true under the current circumstances and certainly not with the Senate package.

INSKEEP: Well, let's think that through for a moment. Sixty billion dollars, that is a lot of money. But you've said it is important to resist Russia in Ukraine. It's got one of the world's largest militaries. It is putting all the force it can against Ukraine. Is that not a relatively small investment compared with losing Ukraine and endangering Europe?

HARRIS: Well, again, the question is not, you know, whether or not we're going to be helpful to Ukraine. The question is how we go about it. What's the best way for the United States to approach it? And again, try to encourage our European allies to step up to the plate even more than they have.

INSKEEP: Although, we're getting the impression that some members of the House want no funding at all. Your speaker attempted to move a bill that just had Israel funding and nothing for Ukraine, and he's voted against Ukraine funding in the past.

HARRIS: I mean, some people don't want any funding at all. But I think if you presented this package the right way, especially if you combined it with some southern border elements, I think people would agree to it.

INSKEEP: Well, I guess we should note, Senate Democrats and Republicans did try to come up with a border compromise. And one of the reasons that that fell apart was that Speaker Johnson said, this is not what I'm looking for at all. Donald Trump, your presidential candidate, urged it to be sunk. And it became clear that there was going to be no Ukraine funding if it had to be attached to a border package. Are you still insisting on that?

HARRIS: Look, that's exactly why Speaker Johnson should have been involved in this negotiation from the beginning. The Senate passes a package and the House takes the position that, well, now it's our turn to decide what to do on this issue. And that's exactly what we'll do.

INSKEEP: I just want to emphasize there, the U.S. has provided military aid, as you have said. And now the United States is providing less and less, and Ukrainians are short of ammunition while fighting one of the largest militaries in the world. And I'm hearing you saying you still need to negotiate a solution to the many years old border problem before you're willing to give any more funding to Ukraine. Is that right?

HARRIS: That's right. Look, that's been the House position for quite a while now. And look, I'm surprised that, again, if Majority Leader Schumer and Minority Leader McConnell wanted this to be done as quickly as possible, they should have involved the House in the negotiations much, much earlier.

INSKEEP: I'd like also to understand the conversations that take place within the Republican caucus. Surveys and interviews over time show that some Republicans, voters as well as lawmakers and influential people, are sympathetic to Russia's President Vladimir Putin. They think he is a Christian leader. They think he is a traditionalist. You speak with a lot of your fellow Republicans. How much of a factor is that in Republican Party thinking about Ukraine?

HARRIS: I think almost none at all. Honestly, that's a Democrat talking point. The bottom line is we understand that Mr. Putin is probably not a very good person at all, that he is a threat. The question is, you know, on the policy level, is how to deal with that.

INSKEEP: Although, I mean, you know, you can look at surveys and see that Republican support for Russia generally or favorable views of Russia generally, that those views have gone up over time as Donald Trump has spoken a certain way about Vladimir Putin.

HARRIS: They may have gone up, but it's still nowhere near a majority of the Republican Party.

INSKEEP: You said that $60 billion, which is the amount in the Senate bill, is too much, but that you would be willing to support some funding for Ukraine. Do you want to put a number on the table that would be fine with you?

HARRIS: Yeah, I do. I think that, you know, Congress is in session 12 months out of the year. There's no reason we have to pass a bill that provides support for three years, as this bill does. We should pare it down to maybe $10 billion of the most necessary aid, combine that with some border policy, and then revisit the issue as we see how the war there progresses over the next several months with that aid package and move forward with that.

INSKEEP: Is it necessary as a strategic matter to make sure that Russia knows the United States will support Ukraine in the long term and that Vladimir Putin can't just wait for money to run out or wait for an election result?

HARRIS: Well, look, I think that always could be interpreted that way. But the bottom line is that if we take action now, the message will be sent to Vladimir Putin that we are going to continue to provide military aid. Let's take the first step. Let's go ahead and put it behind us. So I'm hoping that that might be one of the ideas that is considered.

INSKEEP: Republican Representative Andy Harris of Maryland. Thanks for taking the time, sir.

HARRIS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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