Opinion: GOP cry of ‘America first’ returns over aid to Ukraine

U.S. Reps. Matt Gaetz of Florida and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Rome have been leaders in what could be called the creation of an anti-war wing of the nation's Republican Party, partly through their opposition to expanding aid to Ukraine in its conflict with Russia. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/TNS)

Credit: TNS

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U.S. Reps. Matt Gaetz of Florida and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Rome have been leaders in what could be called the creation of an anti-war wing of the nation's Republican Party, partly through their opposition to expanding aid to Ukraine in its conflict with Russia. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Up until this week, there were only a handful of Republicans in Congress who openly opposed American military assistance for Ukraine to help fight off a Russian invasion — but that number jumped dramatically Tuesday night when the U.S. House easily approved a nearly $40 billion aid package.

“The American people do not support paying for constant U.S. involvement in foreign affairs while our own government fails our own country,” said U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Rome, one of 57 House Republicans to vote against the Ukraine aid plan.

“We swore an oath to serve the United States of America,” Greene said. “Not the United States of Ukraine.”

Greene was one of three Georgia Republicans who opposed the Ukraine aid bill, joined by U.S. Rep. Jody Hice of Greensboro and U.S. Rep. Andrew Clyde of Athens.

“Democrats are throwing around taxpayer money like our massive ($30 trillion) national debt doesn’t exist,” Hice said.

In many ways, Greene’s comments flow directly from the “America First” policy goals of Donald Trump — which in turn echoed the foreign policy isolationism that dominated the Republican Party of the 1920s and 1930s.

“We are proudly putting America first,” Trump said a few weeks before the 2020 election. “It hasn’t happened for a long time.”

More and more Republicans have been saying in recent weeks that the U.S. should focus on problems at home — such as illegal immigration, inflation and a recent shortage of baby formula — and not be the policeman for the world.

“Congress must take seriously our responsibility to be good stewards of Americans’ taxpayer dollars by putting the critical needs of America first,” said U.S. Rep. Greg Steube, R-Fla.

“We are sleepwalking into a war,” said U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., a familiar ally of Greene’s, “and the American people are left in the dark.”

With Greene and Gaetz leading the way, the Republican Party now has developed what could be called an anti-war wing, while Democrats have thrown aside what had been years of routinely downplaying threats emanating from Moscow and Vladimir Putin.

“The cost of the fight is not cheap,” President Joe Biden acknowledged at the White House as he signed a ”lend-lease” bill into law for Ukraine. “But caving to aggression is even more costly. That’s why we’re staying in this.”

So far, there has been a lot of bipartisanship when it comes to supporting Ukraine against the Russian invasion.

But as the nation edges closer to the November elections, that unity may be tested — and this week’s vote in the House may have been the first sign of possibly stronger GOP opposition.

Jamie Dupree has covered national politics and Congress from Washington since the Reagan administration. His column appears weekly in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. For more, check out his Capitol Hill newsletter at http://jamiedupree.substack.com.