Donald Trump Is Setting U.S. Foreign Policy
House Republicans are his instrument and it's unclear what Democrats can do about it
In the run-up to the 2022 midterm, I starting thinking Ukrainians might need to drive invading Russian forces out of their country before elected officials in the U.S. set the federal budget in 2023. Back in February I tried to get a read on whether this was even feasible. Republicans had just taken over the House of Representatives, and I anticipated that they’d allow Ukraine aid to expire, then hold its renewal hostage or simply declare an end to the U.S. policy of supporting the Ukrainian resistance.
Something very much like this has come to pass.
Ukraine remains mired in a bloody conflict. House Republicans stripped Ukraine aid from the stopgap bill Congress passed at the end of September to prevent a government shutdown. Now, with the new deadline days away, they want to omit Ukraine aid from a package that would also provide emergency funds to Israel and make even that aid contingent on a big cut to the IRS enforcement budget, so that wealthy Americans can more easily cheat on their taxes.
We can chalk some of this up to ordinary Republican extortion. Since 2011 (and, to a less-concerted extent, since the 1990s) Republicans have exploited control of Congress under Democratic presidents to prevent easy passage of bipartisan priorities and critical governing functions unless they come paired with unilateral concessions from Democrats. This method hasn’t paid off every time, but it’s been more effective than it ought to have been, which is why Republicans keep returning to it.
But that’s only enough to explain making aid to Israel (something Republicans nominally support) contingent upon defunding the tax police (their higher priority). It can’t explain their determination to abandon Ukraine altogether, without even proposing a ransom. The former reflects a habit of dirty dealing, which Republicans developed long before Donald Trump took over their party; the latter reflects Trump’s unbroken hold over them, which he’s now using as a candidate for president and four-times indicted private citizen to control U.S. foreign policy.
Trump’s loyalists in Congress have no principled objection to financing the Ukrainian resistance. Prior to Trump, Republicans posed, with a couple notable exceptions, as the Kremlin’s chief nemeses in Washington. When Republicans still thought Trump might lose the 2016 election, House GOP leaders met with their Ukrainian counterparts, then privately wondered (more than half seriously) whether Trump had accepted money from Vladimir Putin.
That all changed when, with Putin’s help, Trump unexpectedly won, and dragged U.S. policy in a pro-Moscow direction to return the favor.
Trump’s courtiers went along for the ride gratefully. They grasp about for anything that sounds like a principled basis to cement the Trump-Putin partnership. They know they can count on Russia to meddle on their behalf in U.S. elections. They presumably don’t know the full extent of Trump’s corrupt relationship with Putin (though much of it has been documented) but they understand the relationship to be symbiotic, and that Trump’s russophilic policy commitments must thus be a high priority.
Trump can therefore dictate foreign policy objectives to congressional Republicans who will then use their control of the House to impose those policies on the country through the budget process. A plot against America, unspooling in the most prosaic fashion.
Time was, Republicans took a little more care to subvert U.S. foreign policy away from prying eyes.
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