McConnell says Tucker Carlson and Trump’s waffling delayed crucial Ukraine aid

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WASHINGTON — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday celebrated the impending passage of $60 billion in U.S. aid to Ukraine ahead of a final vote, while lamenting the fact that it took months to secure enough Republican support to land it.

At a press conference, the Kentucky Republican pinpointed two men responsible for that delay: former Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson and former President Donald Trump.

“The demonization of Ukraine began by Tucker Carlson, who in my opinion ended up where he should have been all along, which is interviewing Vladimir Putin,” McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters. “And so he had an enormous audience, which convinced a lot of rank and file Republicans that maybe this was a mistake.”

“I think the former president had sort of mixed views on” Ukraine aid, he added, before alluding to the failed attempt to add border security provisions to the bill, “which requires you to deal with Democrats, and then a number of our members thought it wasn’t good enough.”

“And then our nominee for president didn’t seem to want us to do anything at all,” McConnell said. “That took months to work our way through it.”

The top Senate Republican has been an ardent supporter of Ukraine aid and battled a slew of conservative voices who have sought to block it. He called the expected passage of the bill “an important day for America, and a very important day of freedom-loving countries around the world.”

The Senate voted 80-19 on Tuesday to advance the legislation, setting up a final passage vote that’s expected later in the day, or could slip to Wednesday. President Joe Biden has vowed to sign it, and it could become law within days.

McConnell, who consistently bucked loud conservative voices in his party who opposed Ukraine funding, argued that the margin of support for the war-torn country is an indication the Republican Party is tracking back to its Reaganesque roots of defending the encroachment on democracy around the world.

McConnell said he remains committed to working to help regain a Republican Senate majority, despite his plans to step back from leadership at the end of the year. He said he believes the crop of candidates the Republicans have recruited are more inclined to back away from the party’s recent isolationist tendencies.

“I think we’ve turned the corner on the isolationist movement,” McConnell said. “I’ve noticed how uncomfortable proponents of that are when you call them isolationist. So I think we’ve made some progress and I think it’s gonna have to continue because we got big, big problems: China, Russia, Iran. Going into World War II we just had Germany and Japan.”

The package’s difficulty in the House led to an extended period where Ukraine went without aid, primarily because of right-wing House Republicans who argued the money should not be spent abroad but instead should be spent here at home on border security. McConnell said part of the blame falls on the Biden administration for not recognizing the need earlier and reacting, but acknowledged Congress should’ve acted more quickly. 

“Acting quicker, partially because of the administration partially because of Congress, not approving this bill sooner, has not been helpful,” McConnell said.

The Kentucky Republican also defended House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., whose transformation from Ukraine aid skeptic to staunch supporter helped assure passage in the House. “More important than what I think about the speaker is what the former president thinks about the speaker,” McConnell said. “And he obviously made it clear that he was a fan of Speaker Johnson and suggested some of his critics to shut up. So I’ll just quote the former president.”

McConnell said he feels positive about the GOP’s Senate nominees so far in the battle for the majority this fall, when asked if he has the same “candidate quality” concerns of 2022.

“I feel pretty good about our nominees. I’m pretty confident we’re going to win West Virginia. That’s 50. You all can do the math. One more makes 51,” McConnell said. “And I hope to hand this job over to the majority leader.”

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