Had the great Maya Angelou been alive to witness Saturday’s climax of the omnishambolic dog’s breakfast of a misbegotten legislative process that took place in the U.S. House of Representatives, surely she would have said, “When a political party tells you over and over again that they have no higher priority than serving Vladimir Putin, believe them.”
Then, again, it didn’t take the genius of Ms. Angelou to get the message. At the critical moment at which they had one last chance to avert a government shutdown, when Republicans in the House were forced to abandon all of their legislative priorities but one, the one they chose to ditch was the vital U.S. aid to Ukraine. In so doing, they sent the world an unmistakable signal once again that the first and guiding loyalty of Donald Trump’s GOP is as it always has been to the Kremlin.
Other messages were sent as well by the week of cringeworthy drama that was to the floor of the House as an untrained puppy would be to the floor of its new home.
Had James Madison, Alexander Hamilton or John Jay been watching, they surely would’ve been compelled to write a new Federalist Paper, likely entitled “On Legislative Clusterfuckery.” Kevin McCarthy, the ragdoll Speaker of the House, was toyed with and tormented by a MAGA alliance that appeared to be made up from a group of particularly inept extras from the movie “Idiocracy.” Neither principles, ideals, nor any sense of responsibility made an appearance during the prolonged floor fight.
Matt Gaetz, the chief tormentor, evoked Shakespeare. But not in a good way. He was more in the sort of character described by Macbeth when he spoke of “an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Gaetz and his misfit supporting cast, including Marjorie Taylor Greene, threatened to oust McCarthy if he did not meet their demand that he break the deal he had made months ago with President Biden to avoid the last government financial crisis. They wanted cuts to critical social programs including child care, Head Start, Meals on Wheels, law enforcement, housing and more. They wanted to cut the salaries of senior officials including Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. And they seemed willing to throw millions of government employees—including the military, the Border Patrol, the IRS, administrators of aid programs and others—out of work, thus harming the lives of tens of millions more Americans.
But they also knew that every recent past government shutdown—and all were the handiwork of Republican House majorities—backfired on its authors. And so, just as many had given up hope and every agency of the U.S. government was making plans for a government shutdown that would have begun at midnight of Oct. 1, McCarthy agreed to put forward a so-called “clean” Continuing Resolution that would extend funding for government programs until Nov. 17 of this year. They continued funding at prior levels. They even included funding for disaster assistance and cut a pay boost the House GOP was trying to give itself despite their reckless disregard for their responsibilities.
But something had to be given to the far right. The GOP needed some concession to make it seem as though their childish games had all been worth it. What did they choose? What was the one thing they said would be the last hill they would die on, the one issue so important to them that they would turn out the lights of the U.S. government to defend their position? It was to defund Ukraine aid. It was to settle for, in the words of progressive commentator Josh Marshall, “one sloppy kiss with Vladimir Putin.”
The message that it sent to the world was unmistakable. Economist Timothy Ash tweeted, “Staggering that the GOP, the party of Reagan, has been captured by Russian fascists.”
French writer and philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy wrote that U.S. aid to Ukraine should not be politicized, saying “it is about freedom and democracy, good over evil, right over wrong. Support for Ukraine is essential for the entire free world.”
Yale history professor Timothy Snyder wrote, “Cutting off Ukraine aid makes America unreliable, weakens the cause of democracy, threatens the international legal order, encourages tyrants around the world, and hastens Chinese aggression.”
Liz Cheney, one of the last Republicans with a conscience still standing, pointedly noted that the decision by the MAGA GOP to deny Ukraine funding came on the 85th anniversary of Neville Chamberlain’s 1938 “peace in our time” speech.
It was an apt point. Just as Hitler saw Chamberlain’s weakness as the opening he was looking for, surely Vladimir Putin saw the GOP message for what it was, encouragement for his aggression and his war crimes from the Party of Trump, a clear signal that all he would have to do was wait until the next election cycle and if they won, a GOP-led U.S. would abandon Ukraine, our allies in Europe, and reward Putin’s brutality by extending his reach ever more deeply into the heart of Europe.
Democrats and a handful of more moderate Republicans promised in the wake of the deal that they would seek and expected to get a new supplemental bill that would ensure Ukraine aid continued to be funded.
Let us all hope they are successful and it passes. But the damage has been done. The Putin wing of the GOP and all those who have enabled them made it crystal clear that of all their dangerous priorities, the most important was to strengthen America’s enemies, weaken our allies, and to put democracy at risk overseas just as they are doing here at home.
Nobody is cheering the last-minute deal to keep the government open that cleared the House and then, late Saturday, the Senate. McCarthy, seen as weak before, is seen as even more spineless and at risk than he was. The reprieve that was won is only temporary. The future is uncertain. While the Biden administration and Democrats handled this as well as possible, it is clear that getting anything done in Congress will be very difficult. And while the lunatics from the GOP’s MAGA ward may have temporarily gained control of the congressional asylum, they damaged their tattered reputations even further by achieving not a single solitary thing for any of their supporters—any that is, except their cackling Russian patron whose Bond villain laughter from deep within his bunker home could be heard round the world by all who understand the menace and his Trumpist supporters represent.