Opinion

While Ukraine repels Russia, Rep. Ron Estes of Kansas votes against NATO support and $40B in aid

May 19, 2022 3:33 am

U.S. Rep. Ron Estes, a Kansas Republican representing the 4th District, has voted against a resolution supporting NATO and $40 billion in aid for Ukraine. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

As Ukrainians battle to save themselves from Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s war of choice, a U.S. representative from Kansas isn’t helping them. 

In two big votes over the last two months, Rep. Ron Estes has voted against supporting NATO and sending $40 billion in military and economic support to Ukraine. In the earlier case, he voted against the rest of the Kansas delegation. In the later, he was joined by the 1st District’s Rep. Tracey Mann. Split votes aren’t necessarily a bad thing: Democratic Rep. Sharice Davids votes differently than her three Republican counterparts all the time. But Estes’ choices suggest a concerning lack of support for fundamental democratic values and American security.

They also show he’s out of step with the vast majority of other lawmakers.

The NATO vote was 362-63, while the aid vote was 368-57. In each case, the 4th District’s Estes was one of a peculiar minority of Republican representatives. They variously claim to be concerned about government spending, escalating the war and not putting America first. They also might worry about offending the stunningly beautiful, breathtakingly masculine figure of Putin.

They don’t say that, of course. But the right has harbored strongman fantasies for years. That’s why they lionize Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. That’s why they react with shock and horror at the thought that their own strongman, former President Donald Trump, was aided in his 2016 victory by Russian interference.

Too bad for them that Putin and his country have proven pitifully ramshackle over the last three months.

Or as author and former political speechwriter David Frum puts it: “Everything they wanted to perceive as decadent and weak has proven strong and brave; everything they wanted to represent as fearsome and powerful has revealed itself as brutal and stupid.”

A sign in Topeka shows the city’s support for residents of Ukraine. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

 

What Estes says

Before we go any further, I should let Estes speak for himself. I first reached out to his office after the vote last month on a symbolic resolution supporting NATO, the defensive alliance that protects Western countries. I didn’t receive a response.

His office provided me with the following statement about the spending bill, however: “We should support the Ukrainian people in their fight for freedom while also making sure we spend taxpayer funds with accountability. Democrats’ recent bill was 40 billion taxpayer dollars – billions more than the entire U.S. Department of Justice budget. We need reasonable support to Ukraine — not another spending bonanza that will lead to further inflation.”

Don’t ask me why support for an entirely different country would cause inflation in the United States. People do worry about the issue, so perhaps it’s an effective political talking point.

Aid for Ukraine should poll well too, though. Despite concerns about corruption, the country enjoys a functional democratic system. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has inspired the world with his courageous leadership. Russia, despite glimmers of hope after the fall of the Soviet Union, suffers under the dictatorial rule of one man.

Perhaps that’s why Estes’ office also sent along a link to a press release from early April detailing various ways the congressman has been tough on Russia. Just not during these two votes, I guess.

Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, on a barely comprehensible pretext, threatens to undermine the entire post-World War II global order. Much of Europe has seen peace and prosperity over that time, all based on the fundamental idea that we have global alliances and institutions to defuse the threat of armed conflict.

We should all resist this. Trump’s constant belittling of NATO — and threat to withdraw from the alliance during a second term — shows how fragile these bonds of freedom can be. If the former president regains power, the alliance could dissolve.

A growing number of Republicans, members of a party that once prized a strong national defense and robust foreign policy, now prefer to hide their heads in the sand.

Kansas’ own Sen. Bob Dole would be ashamed.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks to the U.S. Congress by video on March 16, 2022, at the U.S. Capitol to plead for support as his country is besieged by Russian forces. (J. Scott Applewhite/Getty Images)

 

Defending our ideals

No, I don’t believe we’re perfect.

The United States hasn’t always behaved itself in recent decades. We’ve fallen prey to delusions of empire in our dealing with Iraq and Afghanistan. We have a distressing tendency to embrace racist blowhards as political leaders. Critics, including me, point out when we’ve fallen short and why. Yet our founding ideals persist, and we’re better equipped than most to spot when another superpower stumbles after buying into bad intelligence.

Yes, we should keep helping the Ukrainians defend their country. Yes, we should seek to ensure that Putin thinks twice before brutally attacking another neighbor. Yes, we should be careful that the conflict doesn’t escalate into a confrontation between NATO and Russia, but that’s all the more reason to help Ukraine now while encouraging both sides to negotiate.

Frankly, I’m surprised to be advocating a forceful foreign policy.

I come from a long line of New Deal Democrats and union members. My beliefs trend left-liberal across the line. I am not a hawk. Yet I cannot deny in retrospect that a forceful position against the Soviet Union by President Ronald Reagan and his predecessors contributed to the fall of communism. The United States won the Cold War. That win was good for democracy.

So in looking at this situation, I can’t escape the obvious position. The United States should oppose totalitarianism and support those yearning to be free. The representatives we elect should stand with people around the world – and in Kansas – to make that a reality.

That means you, Reps. Estes and Mann.

Again, I can’t believe I’m writing this, but consider the words of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who put his money where his mouth is and actually visited Ukraine last week.

“There have always been isolationist voices in the Republican Party, and there were prior to World War II, and that’s perfectly all right,” he said in Stockholm, Sweden. “This is a debate worth having. It’s an important subject. And I think one of the lessons we learned from World War II is not standing up to aggression early. It’s a huge mistake.”

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Clay Wirestone
Clay Wirestone

Clay Wirestone has written columns and edited reporting for newsrooms in Kansas, New Hampshire, Florida and Pennsylvania. He has also fact checked politicians, researched for Larry the Cable Guy, and appeared in PolitiFact, Mental Floss, cnn.com and a host of other publications. Most recently, Clay spent nearly four years at the nonprofit Kansas Action for Children as communications director. Beyond the written word, he has drawn cartoons, hosted podcasts, designed graphics, and moderated debates. Clay graduated from the University of Kansas and lives in Lawrence with his husband and son.

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