Right-wing Republicans speak out against US aid to Ukraine: ‘We’ve done enough’

Marjorie Taylor Greene, an influential right-wing Republican in Congress, has called on the US to end aid to Ukraine, giving an extra voice to a grassroots rebellion in the party threatening bipartisan support for the war against Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

The Georgia congresswoman is a notorious provocateur who has made racist, anti-Semitic and Islamophobic statements and promoted bizarre conspiracy theories.

Related: Marjorie Taylor Greene Continues to Rise in Republican Ranks Despite ‘Stupid Lies’

Yet she has emerged as a prominent voice in the House of Representatives after bonding with Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who vowed that Republicans will not write a “blank check” to Ukraine.

Greene told the Guardian that Joe Biden is “putting the whole world at risk of World War 3,” a view widely held at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC)America’s largest annual gathering of conservatives.

“I think the United States should be pushing for peace in Ukraine instead of funding and continuing a war that seems to be escalating and putting the whole world at risk of World War III,” Greene said during CPAC’s 8 p.m. the national harbour in Maryland on Friday.

Greene called for US funding to end immediately, insisting that while she voted for a resolution supporting the Ukrainian people and condemning Russia’s invasion, “we are actually accelerating a war there”.

She added: “We should promote peace. Europe should have peace and the United States should do its part. Ukraine is not a NATO member nation and Joe Biden said at the beginning that he would not defend Ukraine because they are not a NATO member member nation. It doesn’t make sense and the American people don’t support it.”

A year after Russia’s unprovoked invasion, the United States has provided four rounds of aid to Ukraine totaling about $113 billion, with some of the money going to replenish American military equipment sent to the front lines.

The two leading contenders for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, former President Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, have both expressed skepticism about the Ukraine case. Opinion polls also show that an erosion of public support.

The conflict was mostly absent from speeches on the main stage at CPAC, once the home of Cold War stalwart Ronald Reagan but now a stronghold of the isolationist “America first” wing of the Republican Party. Nikki Haleya former UN ambassador who is running for president and Mike Pompeo, a former secretary of state who is weighing his own choice, gave the topic a wide berth in their addresses.

But outside the cavernous ballroom, with its glittering red, white and blue stage, neat rows of seats and banks of television cameras, there was less thought and more crowd. Right-wing podcaster and former White House strategist Steve Bannon repeatedly railed against the war in Ukraine before a raucous gathering of fans.

On Friday, he was joined by Matt Gaetz, a congressman from Florida who recently presented a “Ukraine fatigue” decision in Parliament. Gaetz warned of the dangers of Russia’s nuclear arsenal and the threat of a third world war, saying, “Zelinskiy’s new zeal for anti-corruption and oversight appears to be directly aligned with the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives.”

Bannon rejoined: “Any Republican who supports this murderous war in Ukraine should be disbarred.”

Interviews with more than a dozen CPAC attendees elicited similar views and, in some cases, sympathy for Putin. Theresa McManus, wearing a cowboy hat and jacket and a riding skirt patterned with words from the US Constitution, said forcefully: “I like Putin. I think he’s got balls and he’s taking care of his country.”

Related: What to expect from this year’s CPAC: Biden bashing, 2024 Republican primary talk and lawsuit gossip

The 67-year-old horse trainer from rural Virginia went on to repeat a Kremlin speech that people in the Donbas region want to be freed from Ukraine: “No, we’re not going to give them more money. No, we’re not going to be involved in them. They should not be part of NATO.”

Paul Brintley50, ambassador for the North Carolina Faith & Freedom Coalition, described Putin as “not so much a dictator” and said of Ukraine: “I don’t think we should be the police of the world. I don’t think we should bankroll them. We’ve enough.”

Some at CPAC indulge in conspiracy theories about the war. Jason Jisa, 41, of Dallas, Texas, said: “Show me where you’re sending the money. Show me war footage. Look at all the past wars: Afghanistan, Iraq, we’re flooded. We’re shown video of it every single day . You hardly see any video coming from Ukraine. Why? Where are the camera crews?”

Jisa, owner of “US Trump Store”, added: “Where does the money go? Why are we on the hook for them? Why, while we have veterans on the streets, we have homeless people all over the place, we have inflation running amok, are we going to send billions and billions and billions of dollars?”

Ukraine is emerging as a wedge issue in the looming Republican primary. Trump, who launched his campaign last November, has repeatedly called for an end to hostilities, claiming that if he were to return to the Oval Office he could end the war “within 24 hours”.

DeSantis, another potential candidate, was considered a foreign policy hawk who embraced tough rhetoric against Putin while serving in Congress. But he has increasingly adopted a similar tone as he woos Trump’s populist base, even though he did not attend CPAC.

But former Vice President Mike Pence, who is widely expected to launch a bid for the White House in the coming months, has urged Washington to step up aid to Ukraine and insisted on it “there can be no place in the leadership of the Republican Party for apologists for Putin”. That view is shared by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and others in the party establishment.

Neither Pence nor McConnell came to CPAC, which some critics arguing loses relevance as it fails to shake off Trump. Hylton Phillips-Page, 67, a retired investment executive from Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, described Putin as a “thug” but admitted to “mixed feelings” about continued aid to Ukraine.

“I do not think that our support can forever be at the expense of our own country. I would be perfectly OK with our Congress saying: Until you finish the wall and protect our own border, you shouldn’t protect someone else’s border. I’m not against supporting them, but I want us to do some things at home.”

Antwon Williams, 40, of Columbia, South Carolina, who sold Trump merchandise, said: “America needs to worry about the troops that we have, our veterans that need our help here in America, instead of writing a unlimited check to these people out here,” he said.

“No offense to them [Ukrainians]. It’s horrible what they’re going through. No one wants to see someone get hurt and die out there. But we have our own veterans who fought for America and our freedom, who are hurting, who are homeless, who need help, who have mental health issues, and who are starving right here in America.”

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