CLEVELAND — When JD Vance took over for Rob Portman on Jan. 3 it may have been a Republican replacing a Republican in the U.S. Senate, but in the Northeast Ohio Ukrainian Community there was a stark contrast between the two men.
"Senator Portman was one of the leaders in the Senate, he was co-chair of the Senate Caucus on Ukraine,” said Andy Fedynsky, director, Ukrainian Museum-Archives. “And JD Vance ,in his campaign, came out very negatively on Ukraine— so sure it's a big concern."
Concerns that grew last week when Vance penned a letter to the Biden administration demanding an accounting of funds the U.S. has sent to Ukraine. Money that Portman pushed hard for.
“I’ve been very skeptical from the beginning that our Ukraine policy is actually accomplishing much other than destroying the country of Ukraine,” Vance told News 5 Wednesday. “And, obviously raising the risk of potential escalation down the road in a way that can affect us, can affect a lot of our allies in Europe.”
But regardless of where you stand on the war, he said it’s just a question of fiscal responsibility.
“What's really striking here is that by some estimates we've spent $100 billion, in some estimates $114 billion. I think the actual number is much higher that we've spent in Ukraine,” he said. “We just have to have a better sense of where that money is going—again, this is whether you support it or not, we just need to be more careful with American tax dollars, especially when we have the fiscal situation, the budgetary situation that we have here in Washington, we can't spend money willy nilly without knowing where it goes.”
As for the White House decision to send 31 Ohio built Abrams tanks to Ukraine, he said he does not think it’s a good idea, in part, because he said our own defense industrial base “is not up to snuff.”
“We are not able to manufacture the weapons we need if, God forbid the United States had to fight a major war, so I actually see this as a pretty significant distraction. If we need M1 Abrams tanks for America's uses that's a different question then contributing further military resources on an already strained military to a conflict, again, that I think is ultimately not in our national security interest.”
Gov. Mike DeWine, a fellow Republican and himself a former two-term U.S. Senator, was in Parma Tuesday pledging his continued support to Ukraine and its refugees here. He told members of the Ukrainian community decisions may be made in Washington but attitudes are shaped in the heartland where silence isn't an option.
"One of the things that is important is that those of us who are not in Congress but do have the bully pulpit of the office that we have, whether that’s the mayor or whether that’s the governor or whatever it is, that we speak up and we make it very, very clear that we support the United States' actions in helping Ukraine and we will continue to do that,” DeWine said.
He continued, “This is not a partisan issue, Democrats and Republicans—if you look at the people that are supporting our actions in Ukraine it is both parties. This is still a country that believes in freedom, this is a country that believes that aggressors should be repelled and this brutal act of aggression that we see play out on our TV screens every single night, our heart just goes out to the people of Ukraine, but we should continue to do absolutely everything we can to assist the brave men and women who are fighting there.”
Vance, when asked what his message would be to the Ukrainian community in Ohio, he said it would be this:
“One, I'm always an open book and I'm always willing to have a conversation. Certainly there are going to be some issues, including the Ukraine issue where I feel differently than Sen. Portman does, but you know we got a lot of great Ukrainian supporters during our campaign, people who have continued to be supportive as I've taken office and I think there are a lot of people even within the Ukrainian community who disagree with me but also a lot who share my view that we have to be careful here.”
He continued, “The goal is not to destroy the country of Ukraine so that we can bog down another country in a permanent war of attrition, the goal here is to get this conflict over with so that we can rebuild Ukraine and bring peace back to Europe. And I think most people, even if they don't share every specific view that I have, they share that broad view that what's in the interest of Ukraine is in the interest of the United States and that's an end to this conflict.”
You can watch more about DeWine's visit to Parma's Ukrainian community in the player below: