The following article was originally published in the Ohio Capital Journal and published on News5Cleveland.com under a content-sharing agreement.
Since taking office a month ago, U.S. Sen. J.D. Vance has underscored his skepticism for offering military support to Ukraine. It’s an issue that set him apart from politicians in Ohio and around the country but didn’t keep him from securing the GOP nomination or the general election.
Just days before Russia’s invasion, Vance declared, “I don’t really care what happens to Ukraine one way or another,” on Steve Bannon’s War Room podcast.
After bullets began flying, he softened his tone somewhat, but never really abandoned the issue. At a New Albany campaign stop last March he expressed sympathy but insisted “we have to have to focus on what’s going on closest to home.” On debate stages, he criticized Congress withholding $4 billion for a border wall under Trump, but then readily spending $14 billion on Ukraine.
“That suggests some pretty messed up priorities,” he said at the time.
Now in the Senate, Vance is continuing the charge and drawing like-minded lawmakers to the effort.
Oversight, opposition and obstruction
As Senator, Vance’s first step on Ukraine policy was sending a letter to the Office of Management and Budget. He and 35 other lawmakers pressed the agency to publicly provide “a full cross-cutting report,” on Ukraine expenditures. U.S. Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Ohio, was the only other Ohio lawmaker to sign the letter. Federal law requires the agency to provide a report, but Vance insisted on more detail.
“They should expand the report to tell us the amount of money we’ve sent to Ukraine, including comprehensive information showing how those funds were used,” Vance said in a statement.
“I do not intend to sit back and allow the Biden Administration to keep this information under wraps,” he added. “I expect to receive this report by the (Feb. 7) deadline in this letter.”
After the administration agreed to send M1 Abrams tanks made in Lima, Ohio to Ukraine, Vance told a Cleveland station it was a “ultimately not in our national security interest.”
Earlier this week, again on Bannon’s War Room podcast, Vance announced his endorsement of Donald Trump for president. In line with a recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Vance praised Trump’s foreign policy. He called it “the most cautious and the most careful,” in a generation.
“Since I’ve been an adult you had two separate two-term administrations, Bush and then Obama, start four separate wars, none of which were successful,” Vance argued.
At Bannon’s prompting, Vance said it’s time for Congress to have a more direct hand in deciding what support Ukraine receives.
“The escalation here is incredible,” Bannon said, “Is it time for the Senate, or some a couple of people stand up and say force Biden to come with a war powers resolution and lay out the plan? Lay out the objectives, lay out the strategy, what we’re prepared to do, and then let’s vote?”
“Yeah, I think it’s exactly time to do that,” Vance agreed. “And that’s something I plan to work on over the next few months.”
As for where Ohioans stand, Vance told Bannon he hears mixed views but “most people probably agree” with his perspective.
“I think even people who are sympathetic with the plight of the Ukrainians, like I am, they don’t think that this is America’s main concern,” Vance said.
Ukrainian American response
It’s all a bit disappointing to Marta Kelleher. The president of United Ukrainian Organizations of Ohio says Vance’s push for a transparent accounting is a reasonable request.
“All Americans, whether you are of Ukrainian American descent, or any other, want to see that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely, and want to have an accounting of it,” she said.
But she departs from the senator when it comes to the war powers resolution. She explained that resolution, passed in 1973, provides a check on presidential power to use military force without Congressional approval. Since the U.S. is only sending materiel, she argued, it’s a misplaced effort.
“There are no troops on the ground. There was never a request for troops on the ground. The United States is not going to commit troops to the ground,” Kelleher said. “So it doesn’t seem an appropriate request or even next step.”
As for Vance’s broader skepticism toward offering support, Kelleher insisted she doesn’t sympathize with his position. But she didn’t bash him for it, either — she understood how he got there.
Picking up on Vance’s op-ed in the Journal, she called his framing of the argument, relying on foreign policy during his adult life, “somewhat myopic, and understandingly so.” Vance’s perspective, she argued, “needs to be broadened a bit.” Understanding Putin’s actions today is impossible without understanding the control and influence the Soviet Union exerted over eastern Europe in previous decades, she said.
Still, Kelleher didn’t dismiss Vance. Instead, she brought up how Vance has spoken previously about wanting to meet with the community.
“You learn when you listen, and so our door’s open,” she said. “We welcome the Senator to come and sit down and broaden that perspective, and broaden the understanding beyond just the occurrences within his lifetime.”