Resolution supporting Ukraine sparks angry exchange in Maine House
Mar. 7—A proposal to express support for Ukraine and for continued U.S. assistance to help fend off the Russian invasion sparked emotional arguments on the floor of Maine House of Representatives on Tuesday.
Several Republicans spoke in opposition to the resolution during a nearly hourlong floor debate leading up to a 87-54 vote in favor. The resolution extolls the leadership of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and condemns Russian President Vladimir Putin's "barbarous war."
"Russia's unjustified war is having a global impact, with the world's most vulnerable suffering from increased food and economic insecurity, along with rising costs for energy and commodities," the resolution states. "Therefore be it resolved that we support the United States Government's continued security, economic and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine and imposition of consequences on Russia for its war of aggression."
More than $100 billion in military and financial assistance has been sent to Ukraine through 11 government offices since the start of the war a year ago, according to January 2023 report from the Joint Strategic Oversight Plan for Ukraine Response.
House Minority Leader Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor, and Rep. John Andrews, R-Paris, led the opposition. Faulkingham said the resolution is "dangerously close to war propaganda" and Andrews called Ukraine "one of the most corrupt countries on the planet." Others called on the U.S. to stop sending aid oversees and instead invest that money here at home.
That led Rep. Dan Sayre, a Kennebunk Democrat and a self-described student of history, to compare arguments against the resolution to what he described as an America First movement in the 1930s and 1940s to avoid confronting Hitler's conquests and to support antisemitism in the United States.
That charge prompted Andrews to object, saying Sayre was impugning the character and questioning the motives of members, which is a violation of House rules.
"If he wants to call me an anti-Semite or a Nazi, he can do it to my face," Andrews said. "Thank you."
House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, cautioned both lawmakers against the escalating rhetoric.
"The chair will advise that it is out of order to intimate threats to other members of this chamber," Talbot Ross said. "The chair would advise the representative to direct all comments to the chair as he is moving dangerously close to questioning the character of the members in this body."
Sayre, however, said he was only speaking to history, not any individual House member.
"No offense was intended and I apologize if offense was taken," Sayre said. "But it is true that the America First movement, for reasons we have heard articulated in this chamber, sought to sit back and avoid holding at bay a dictator who repeatedly not just threatened but violated the sovereignty of European nations."
The resolution ultimately passed on an 87-54 vote, with 53 of the 67 Republican members opposed. The divided vote highlights the growing uneasiness about the year-plus-long war and the amount of assistance the U.S. is contributing. A similar resolution at the onset of the invasion passed last year on a near unanimous vote, with only two lawmakers opposed.
DEBATE MIRRORS NATIONAL SHIFT
The debate in the Maine House over U.S. aid to Ukraine mirrors what's occurring nationally. With the Russian invasion entering its second year and Congress back in session this week, scrutiny of U.S. involvement is peaking.
Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz has authored a "Ukraine fatigue" resolution that calls for ending all aid to Kyiv, which has netted 10 Republican co-sponsors.
It has little chance of passing but it's meant to amplify the creeping public skepticism of a war far from the daily concerns of most Americans still grappling with inflation, health care accessibility and homegrown catastrophes like the trail derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.
A Pew poll showed only a quarter of Americans said the U.S. is spending too much in Ukraine, but that is an increase of 6 points since September. A separate Associated Press survey found that just 48% of voters support continued assistance to Ukraine, down from 60% from last May.
Rep. Rebecca Millett, D-Cape Elizabeth, who sponsored the resolution in the Maine House, noted an estimated 14 million Ukrainians have been displaced and another 8,000 civilians have died, including at least 400 children.
Millett suggested Republicans' concerns about the war paled in comparison to what the resolution called "systematic violations of international law; inhumane attacks on civilians and critical infrastructure; torture, sexual violence and forced deportation; kidnappings and illegal adoption of children."
"Nothing justifies the extinguishing of a culture, a nation, a people," she said. "Nothing."
Andrews said the resolution would only bring the U.S. closer to direct war with Russia, which could lead to a third world war.
"One-sided and inflammatory resolutions like these are irresponsible and should be voted down," Andrews said. "With all of this virtue-signaling that is dangerously close to warmongering, I must ask, Madam Speaker, what happened to the antiwar left? Where have they gone?"
Only one Democrat, Rep. Sophia Warren of Scarborough, joined Republicans in voting against the resolution. Warren did not speak during the debate to explain her opposition.
This report contains material from The Associated Press.