Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) this week waded into the debate over U.S. involvement in the war between Russia and Ukraine, saying further American entanglement in the war is not in the country’s “vital national interests.”
“While the U.S. has many vital national interests — securing our borders, addressing the crisis of readiness within our military, achieving energy security and independence, and checking the economic, cultural, and military power of the Chinese Communist Party — becoming further entangled in a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia is not one of them,” DeSantis said in response to a Fox News questionnaire of potential 2024 presidential candidates.
The remarks echoed criticism from some within the Republican Party about the level of funding the American government has offered to Ukraine, but also landed him squarely in the crosshairs of some GOP hawks.
Here are the Republicans who have responded to DeSantis on his Ukraine-Russia comments.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) speaks during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing to discuss worldwide threats on Wednesday, March 8, 2023. (Annabelle Gordon)
Rubio pushed back against his home-state governor for indicating that the war between Russia and Ukraine was a “territorial dispute,” saying Russia’s ultimate goal is to take over Ukraine.
“Well, it’s not a territorial dispute in the sense that any more than it would be a territorial dispute if the United States decided that it wanted to invade Canada or take over the Bahamas,” Rubio said in an interview with Hugh Hewitt Tuesday. “Just because someone claims something doesn’t mean it belongs to them.”
Rubio told Hewitt that it was out of a desire to “dominate” Ukraine that Russia had launched the war.
“So it’s really more of a desire to dominate their neighbor, have them as part of their sphere of influence, not so much of it about the land,” Rubio said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) questions Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw during a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on Thursday, March 9, 2023 to discuss the derailment in East Palestine, Ohio last month. (Greg Nash)
Graham has been one of the strongest Republican proponents of U.S. support for Ukraine, urging the Biden administration to send even more military aid to the country than it already has. He took to Twitter after DeSantis’s comments to underline what he sees as the imperative policy of pushing back against Russia. Though he didn’t mention DeSantis by name, many read the South Carolina governor’s tweets as an indirect response to the Florida governor.
“If (Russian President Vladimir) Putin loses in Ukraine, then the world resets in all the right ways,” Graham said on Twitter. “If he wins in Ukraine and the west capitulates just like in the past, more conflict is coming.”
After the Biden administration ruled out last month sending F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, Graham branded the decision as “beyond disappointing.”
“When it comes to Putin, you either pay now or pay later,” Graham said Tuesday. “If you do not understand that success by Putin in Russia invites aggression by China against Taiwan, then you have seriously miscalculated one of the most obvious nexuses in the world.”
Former Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.)
Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) is seen during a House Jan. 6 committee business meeting on Monday, December 19, 2022 to vote on criminal referrals and give a final presentation prior to releasing their report. (Greg Nash)
Cheney, who lost reelection to the House last year after becoming one of former President Trump’s main rivals, said that DeSantis was wrong in his assessment of the importance of U.S. involvement in the Russian-Ukrainian war.
“The Ukrainian people are fighting for their freedom,” the former lawmaker said in a statement to The New York Times on Tuesday. “Surrendering to Putin and refusing to defend freedom makes America less safe.”
Cheney, who was known as a defense hawk during her time in Congress, said the stance by DeSantis showed “weakness.”
“Weakness is provocative and American officials who advocate this type of weakness are Putin’s greatest weapon,” Cheney said. “Abandoning Ukraine would make broader conflict, including with China and other American adversaries, more likely.”
Former Gov. Nikki Haley (R-S.C.)
Former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Md., on Friday, March 3, 2023. (Greg Nash)
Haley, one of a handful of declared 2024 presidential contenders, said the Florida governor was “copying” Trump on his stance on Ukraine.
“President Trump is right when he says Governor DeSantis is copying him—first in his style, then on entitlement reform, and now on Ukraine,” Haley said in a statement. “I have a different style than President Trump, and while I agree with him on most policies, I do not on those.”
In her own response to the Fox News questionnaire, Haley offered an unequivocal “Yes,” when asked if defending Ukraine was in America’s vital interests.
“America is far better off with a Ukrainian victory than a Russian victory,” Haley said. “If Russia wins, there is no reason to believe it will stop at Ukraine.”
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas)
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) addresses reporters during a press conference on Tuesday, February 14, 2023 to discuss the new Washington, D.C., criminal code introduced by the House. (Annabelle Gordon)
Cornyn told Politico that he was “disturbed” by DeSantis’s comments on Ukraine, arguing it was important for the U.S. to continue its support of Kyiv.
“I’m disturbed by it. I think he’s a smart guy,” Cornyn told Politico. “I want to find out more about it, but I hope he feels like he doesn’t need to take that Tucker Carlson line to be competitive in the primary. It’s important for us to continue to support Ukrainians for our own security.”
As sentiment from some in his party has soured on the war, Cornyn has been one of the leading conservative voices in the Senate continuing to voice the need for U.S. support.
“The point that keeps getting lost in this war is that a Ukrainian victory is in our national interest,” Cornyn said on the Senate floor last month. “The most effective way to keep American troops out of the line of fire is to help the Ukrainians stop Putin now, before his conquest moves even further west.”
Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.)
Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) speaks during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing to examine global threats and strategy on Wednesday, February 15, 2023. (Annabelle Gordon)
Wicker pushed back on DeSantis’s comments to reporters on Tuesday, saying “I completely disagree with his comments.”
“I take them at face value, they were written and submitted, not off the cuff,” Wicker said.
Wicker continued to warn against waning U.S. support of Ukraine, saying on Twitter that Putin “wants nothing more.”
“Putin wants nothing more than to push the United States away from our support of Ukraine and prevent us from rolling back his destructive policies,” Wicker said. “We must choose to project strength against our adversary, not appease this dictator with words or so-called ‘de-escalation.'”
Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.)
Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) arrives to the Capitol for a series of votes on Tuesday, March 7, 2023. (Annabelle Gordon)
Tillis joined the chorus of Senate Republicans who repudiated the DeSantis sentiments, telling Politico that he disagrees with the potential presidential hopeful.
“I think we have to look better than just the conflict in Ukraine,” Tillis said. “There’s a humanitarian crisis. There are war crimes being committed.”
Tillis has emphatically supported congressional support packages for Ukraine, and has pushed further documentation and scrutiny of war crimes by Russia.