Ukraine aid package divides Oklahoma's GOP candidates for US Senate seats

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Republicans running to succeed U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe are divided over a $40 billion Ukraine package expected to clear the Senate this week, with some questioning the price tag and others stressing the need to help the European country defend itself.

T.W. Shannon, an Oklahoma City bank executive and former state House speaker running for the Senate seat, opposes the package.

“Having an open heart for the Ukrainian people is not the same thing as having an open checkbook for the country of Ukraine,” he said.

Alex Gray, who worked on the National Security Council in the Trump administration, said the package is too big and conveys the continued impression that the United States is bearing most of the burden for helping the European country.

“I would support a very tailored package,” Gray said. “I would want to look at a handful of capabilities at a reasonable price tag for the American taxpayer that would actually enhance Ukranian on-the-ground capabilities.”

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U.S. Senate candidate T.W. Shannon
U.S. Senate candidate T.W. Shannon

Ukraine funding package approved in US House

The House passed the bill overwhelmingly last week, with the support of Rep. Markwayne Mullin, the frontrunner in the crowded Republican field for the special Senate election to serve the remaining four years of Inhofe’s term.

Mullin said he backed the $40 billion package to replenish military weapons stockpiles that have been reduced by donations to Ukraine’s war effort against Russia

“The United States has gone through our allies to supply them aid, with the agreement that our allies would pay it forward to Ukraine with Eastern weaponry that our allies have, and Ukrainian soldiers know how to use,” he said.

“Now, it’s time to backfill our own supply and rebuild our stockpile stateside. That’s precisely what this bill does.”

The bill allots about $9 billion to replenish military stocks.

Another $6 billion of the Defense Department portion would provide a wide range of support to Ukraine’s military, while another $4 billion would boost funding for U.S. military operations in the region.

Much of the rest of the funding goes through the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development to provide economic aid in Ukraine and humanitarian assistance.

Congressman Markwayne Mullin, a U.S. Senate candidate
Congressman Markwayne Mullin, a U.S. Senate candidate

Former President Donald Trump weighed in on the package last week, saying, “The Democrats are sending another $40 billion to Ukraine, yet America's parents are struggling to even feed their children.” The statement, which also blasted the infant formula crisis in the United States, ended with “America First!”

Shannon said Monday, “I agree with President Trump. Voting to support (President Joe) Biden’s plan to fund Ukraine is not only short-sighted, it’s ill-advised. The American people haven’t been given any direction about our interests or our plan.”

GOP candidate Luke Holland, former chief of staff to Inhofe, would support the package.

“It's imperative the United States and our allies provide weapons to Ukraine so they can defend themselves from (Russian President Vladimir) Putin,” Holland said. “This package does that. Sadly it also provides far too much to the State Department without full accountability about how the funds will be spent.”

Republican Sen. Rand Paul, of Kentucky, has stalled the bill’s passage in the Senate because of his concerns about oversight of how the money is spent.

Paul is backing state Sen. Nathan Dahm, of Broken Arrow, in the race to succeed Inhofe. A political action committee associated with Paul has spent nearly $900,000 in Oklahoma on Dahm’s behalf.

“If I was currently in the U.S. Senate I would absolutely be a NO on this spending bill!” Dahm tweeted last week.

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Lankford says he will support Ukrainian aid package

Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford, a Republican who is up for reelection this year, said in a Facebook post on Monday that he would support the package. He said it was not a partisan issue, noting that most Republicans voted Monday night to advance the package past a procedural hurdle. Most Republicans in the House also voted for it.

“While I’m aware how much Biden has fumbled the issues of our economy and our border and other areas, we can’t just turn our back and send a signal that America is weak,” Lankford said. “That’s what Biden did in Afghanistan. That doesn’t help world peace long term.”

He said Russia's invasion of Ukraine had created other crises, including food shortages that threatened lives in some countries.

Lankford said the bill includes oversight through inspector generals. According to a House Appropriations Committee summary, there is $4 million for the State Department inspector general to oversee the funding and $1 million for the USAID inspector general. The bill also requires the Defense Department inspector general to report on spending and use of equipment.

Though many Facebook users expressed support for the package in response to Lankford’s post on Monday, there were also many opposed to his position, including some echoing concerns that the nation’s needs at home should be addressed first.

Lankford’s Republican opponent, Tulsa pastor Jackson Lahmeyer, criticized Lankford’s “audacity” to back the package “in the midst of record inflation, surging gas prices and food/baby formula shortages in the US.”

The primaries are June 28. If no candidate receives 50% plus one vote in the primary for Inhofe’s seat, a runoff will be held on Aug. 23. The GOP nominee will face former Congresswoman Kendra Horn, an Oklahoma City Democrat, in the general election, which will also include a Libertarian and an independent candidate.

BY THE NUMBERS

Selected provisions of the $40 billion Ukrainian aid package:

DEFENSE DEPARTMENT

  • $6 billion to provide training, equipment, weapons, logistics support, supplies and services, salaries and stipends, sustainment, and intelligence support to the military and national security forces of Ukraine.

  • $9 billion to replenish US stocks of military equipment sent to Ukraine through drawdown authority.

  • $3.9 billion for European Command Operations for mission support, intelligence support, hardship pay for troops deployed to the region, and equipment including a Patriot battery.

STATE DEPARTMENT

  • $4 billion for the Foreign Military Financing Program to provide additional support for Ukraine and countries affected by the situation in Ukraine, including NATO Eastern flank countries and other partners in the region, to build and update their capabilities.

  • $8.8 billion for the Economic Support Fund to respond to emergent needs in Ukraine, provide needed budget support to assist with Ukraine’s continuity of government, and counter human trafficking. Includes $760 million to prevent and respond to global food Insecurity.

U.S. AGENCY FOR INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT

  • $4.35 billion for International Disaster Assistance to provide emergency food assistance to people around the world suffering from hunger as a result of the conflict in Ukraine and other urgent humanitarian needs of populations and communities inside Ukraine.

JUSTICE DEPARTMENT

  • $67 million for DOJ General Administration to help cover the costs of seizing, retaining, and selling forfeited property (e.g., the yachts of Russian oligarchs) related to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Source: U.S. House Appropriations Committee

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Oklahoma GOP candidates for Senate divided over Ukraine aid package