Capitol Hill’s dove nest has been shaken by Russia‘s invasion of Ukraine, leaving the anti-war movement with few allies as Congress eyes a fresh round of lethal aid to Kyiv.
Lawmakers have overwhelmingly approved two separate rounds of combined military and humanitarian assistance for Ukraine since the war broke out in February with few objections. The loudest dissent came from Republicans — long considered foes of sign-carrying pacifists.
“We were quite flabbergasted that there was not one Democrat who voted against the $40 billion bill for Ukraine, about half of which was weapons. No one from the Squad, no one from the Progressive Caucus,” said Medea Benjamin, co-founder of feminist anti-war group Code Pink.
“I hate to say this, but it’s politics,” she said. “If this were happening under Trump, we would see a lot of progressive Democrats calling for negotiations and cease-fire.”
Anti-war activists fear they have lost their sounding board among Democratic lawmakers as the conflict shows no sign of letting up.
“Congress must not surrender its oversight duties,” said Marcy Winograd, who co-chairs the foreign policy arm of the advocacy group Progressive Democrats of America. “The stakes are too high: more death and destruction, climate havoc, famine in the Middle East and Africa, economic ruin with rising inflation, and the risk of a nuclear war.”
The White House is pressing Congress for a third round of military and economic aid totaling $12 billion, which Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, plans to attach to a stopgap spending bill to keep the federal government funded beyond Sept. 30.
The latest round, which is likely to meet little pushback in Congress, adds billions more that anti-war activists say has received little scrutiny from lawmakers.
“If the people of this country knew that before the year was out, Congress and the White House would send an estimated $40 billion worth of military ‘aid’ for a protracted war, they would be banging on the doors of their representatives to remind them of urgent needs at home,” Ms, Winograd said.
In March, just weeks after the war broke out, Congress shuttled a $13.6 billion emergency aid package to Ukraine, roughly half of which was military aid, which was lumped in with a $1.5 trillion spending bill.
In May, lawmakers were given a standalone vote on sending another $40 billion package, including $11 billion worth of weapons and military equipment for Ukraine and roughly $9 billion for the Pentagon to replenish its arms stockpile.
The bill received unanimous support among Democrats in both chambers. Eleven Republicans in the Senate and 57 Republicans in the House voted against the package. Many of the opponents raised concerns about U.S. spending for the war amid economic uncertainty at home.
Rep. Barbara Lee’s votes for sending more weapons to the battlefront stood out among anti-war activists.
The California Democrat and House Progressive Caucus member cast the lone vote against the 2001 authorization to use military force in Afghanistan days after the 9/11 terror attack.
Ms. Lee said in March that she voted for the first Ukrainian aid to “stand in solidarity with Ukrainians who are suffering under Russia‘s aggression.” Following the vote, she also pressed for “diplomacy and de-escalation” at the “dangerous and unpredictable moment.”
In May, Ms. Lee voted for the second package of aid and urged her colleagues “to respond to the remarkable strength and resilience of the Ukrainian people and stand with them.”
Ms. Lee did not respond to a request for comment for this report.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, who chairs the House Progressive Caucus, said that despite Democrats’ unanimous support for sending military aid to Ukraine, progressives continue to press for diplomacy.
“It’s not our role just to help Ukraine have whatever weapons they need on the battlefield, our real role is to leverage our power as the United States to come to a negotiated settlement,” she told The Washington Times. “I think people sometimes feel the pressure of the horrors of what’s happening in Ukraine and the horrors of what Russia has done in Ukraine and their reaction to that is ‘let’s give them more weapons.’ But we have a bigger role to play here.”
She said she has not yet decided on how she would vote on the next package.
“I do have concerns about really being clear about what our plan is for some sort of diplomatic negotiations,” she said.
President Biden has deferred to Kyiv to define its victory. Meanwhile, Mr. Biden is banking on unwavering support for the war from Democrats in Congress.
Ukrainian officials have set a high bar, calling for the complete expulsion of Russian troops from their territory, including on the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014, and the Donbas region, which has remained at a stalemate since then.
Neither side appears willing to come to the table any time soon.
Russia sustained heavy territorial losses in recent weeks from Ukraine‘s aggressive counter-offensive that was enabled by the flood of military aid from the West.
In response, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the mobilization of 300,000 military reservists in a significant escalation of the war.
During a rare televised address, Mr. Putin accused Ukraine of threatening to erode Russia‘s independence and accused the West of “attempting to blackmail us with nuclear weapons.”
He warned that Russia will use all tools at its disposal in response, adding that his threats are not a “bluff”
Ms. Benjamin fears the situation is spiraling out of control and the U.S. is making it worse.
“There’s the potential of a nuclear war,” she said. “There’s also inflation, the price of gasoline, the price people are paying for groceries, the economic hardship that the people in Europe will be facing this winter. … All of this should make the leaders of the Western countries stand up and say, we have got to find an end to this war.”