U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner participates in a panel discussion Tuesday in Wichita as part of a summit organized by the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition. (Kansas Reflector screen capture from USGLC video)
TOPEKA — U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner credits Russian President Vladimir Putin with accomplishing something nobody thought was possible.
“He brought the United States Congress together in a bipartisan way,” LaTurner said Tuesday during a panel discussion in Wichita organized by the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition.
The discussion was part of a summit featuring policymakers and community leaders in three states talking about the role of “America’s heartland” in economic prosperity and national security. Panel discussions were held in Minnetonka, Minnesota, in West Lafayette, Indiana, and at Cargill headquarters in Wichita.
LaTurner, a Kansas Republican, joined retired Air Force Gen. Victor Renuart at the Wichita panel, where they defended U.S. investments in diplomacy and humanitarian aid around the world.
That includes a $40 billion aid package for Ukraine, which Congress passed in May by a 368-57 vote. LaTurner was the lone Republican in the Kansas delegation to vote in favor of the package. Democratic Rep. Sharice Davids also supported the package, while Republican Reps. Ron Estes and Tracey Mann voted against it.
The aid was a response to Russia’s unprovoked invasion in March. On Tuesday, LaTurner said the war had affected global markets, jeopardizing the livelihoods of Kansas agriculture producers whose annual exports bring $5.7 billion to the state’s economy.
“It is without question in our national security interest to make sure that we are successful in Ukraine,” LaTurner said.
Renuart, who oversaw the planning of allied combat, humanitarian and reconstruction efforts in Iraq, said the invasion of Ukraine presented an opportunity for the U.S. to lead again on a global stage, and solidified relationships with NATO members. America’s friends and allies are “playing a more active role” now, the general said.
Investments in diplomacy and humanitarian aid, Renuart said, can help the U.S. avoid direct military combat.
“We’ve got to really be much more forward-leaning in our noncombat investments, our international aid and development, to preclude the cost of human treasure in the future,” Renuart said.
Tuesday’s summit began with opening remarks from former U.S. Rep. Dan Glickman, a Kansas Democrat who also served as agriculture secretary under President Bill Clinton, about the importance of a strong America.
“We are clearly at a crossroads,” Glickman said. “We all need to work together to make good things happen. These are not Democrat or Republican issues.”
Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly announced a proclamation declaring August to be “U.S. Heartland Global Leadership Month.”
State Sen. Brenda Dietrich, a Topeka Republican, introduced the panel.
“There’s no question that the world that we live in today is more complex, more interconnected, and more challenging than any time in recent history,” Dietrich said. “And you’ve heard, there’s no shortage of threats — from Russia to China to Afghanistan to the Horn of Africa. But there’s also an important economic link to consider.”
LaTurner said the money the U.S. spends on diplomacy and humanitarian aid around the world is a worthwhile investment that amounts to just 1% of the U.S. budget.
In exchange for the investment, LaTurner said, the U.S. expects countries to reform and hold free and fair elections.
“It is a lot cheaper than war,” LaTurner said. “And so I think it is important that we continue to do this. It’s important that we remain the global superpower.”
LaTurner said it is also important to create new markets for U.S. exports, especially since China is aggressively working to expand markets. He said he believes in free and fair trade, and that this should be a bipartisan issue.
“I think it’s really critical that at least on a couple of issues, we can put down our pitchforks and work together,” LaTurner said.
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