GOP senators push back on DeSantis for saying Ukraine is not a vital interest

WASHINGTON – Republican senators broke with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday over his remarks about defending Ukraine against Russian aggression was not an “important” American interest.

“I completely disagree with his comments,” said Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., the ranking member of The Defense Committee.

About a half-dozen of Wicker’s GOP colleagues expressed varying degrees of opposition to DeSantis’ remarks Monday night on Fox News.

The high-profile comments by DeSantis, a potential 2024 presidential hopeful who many GOP elites expect to be the main alternative to former President Donald Trump, intensify a clash in the party between security hawks who want to preserve the post-World War II order and a right-wing populist wing. who seek to withdraw from global affairs.

Late. Kevin Cramer, RN.D., told NBC News, “I certainly would hate to send a signal to [Russian President] Vladimir Putin that we are not worried about him and I certainly would hate to send a signal to other allies around the world that you are on your own. Because it could lead to a nuclear proliferation that we have avoided for decades. So no, I think it’s in our interest.”

Cramer, who otherwise praised DeSantis, said he is “not super surprised” by the remarks as DeSantis navigates a complicated dynamic with the party base.

“We have a base that’s restless, and if he’s running for president, he probably needs to talk to that base a little bit,” Cramer said. “And that doesn’t mean it’s not his position, but I think if he’s that president of the United States and he’s got all that power, then hopefully he’s sufficiently briefed on the details to make the decision. But I also hope that this position develops a little bit.”

Late. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., the ranking member of the Intelligence Committee, rejected DeSantis’ view that Russia’s war in Ukraine was a “territorial dispute” between two sides.

“It’s not a territorial dispute in the sense that — any more than it would be a territorial dispute if the United States decided they wanted to invade Canada or take over the Bahamas,” Rubio told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt. “Just because someone claims something doesn’t mean it belongs to them. This is an invasion.”

Rubio added, “I don’t know what he’s trying to do or what the goal is. Obviously, he’s not dealing with foreign policy every day as governor.”

Late. Lindsey Graham, RS.C., said DeSantis’ comments reflected a “misunderstanding of the situation.”

“This is not a territorial conflict. This is a war of aggression,” he said, adding that DeSantis has been “a great governor, but in my opinion, if you don’t get Ukraine right, this is a chance to stop Putin before it will be a bigger war.—and China is watching.”

Senate Minority Whip John Thune, RS.D., said “I have a different view of it than he does” when pressed about DeSantis. “There is a diversity of opinion, as you know, within members of our party.”

Several Republicans said protecting Ukraine is ultimately about protecting the United States and its allies in Europe.

“They are a vital interest,” said Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala. “We are basically protecting NATO and Europe.” But he said there is a valid debate about how far the United States can go in helping Ukraine. “We’re broke,” he said. “We need to have a better plan.”

Late. John Kennedy, R-La., said: “I don’t want America to be the policeman of the world, but I don’t want Vladimir Putin or [Chinese President] Xi Jinping to be the world’s policemen, either. I have never seen our aid to Ukraine as charity. I have seen it as self-preservation.”

Other Republicans said the issue will spark a debate in the primaries.

“It’s something that I think any of the people who have an interest in working as the next president of the United States really need to be fully briefed before they decide to take a stand on this particular question,” Sen. Mike Rounds, RS.D., told reporters.

“So we’ll see how it moves. But we’ve got a number of people looking, I think, at the 2024 race, and we’ll find out if the rest of them feel the same way.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

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