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Why sending more aid to Ukraine has become a divisive issue within the GOP

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This week, 22 Senate Republicans helped Democrats pass $60 billion in additional aid to Ukraine to help the country continue to defend itself from Russia. But a vocal group of House Republicans continues to oppose it, with a House speaker saying he has no immediate plans to bring it to a vote.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

All right. So what explains the internal party divide? I called up Danielle Pletka to dig in deeper. She's an expert on U.S. foreign policy with the American Enterprise Institute. That's a conservative-leaning think tank. So, Danny, why do you think Republicans in the House seem to be willing to go to battle on this issue even when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who opposes the funding - who supports the funding?

DANIELLE PLETKA: I think there are a variety of different reasons. There's a pretty large group, I'd say probably 40% of the Republican caucus, that's all in. They want to do this. Not only do they want to do this, they have been the ones holding the Biden administration's feet to the fire. They've been complaining that the Biden administration isn't moving weapons, ammo fast enough. So there's that one group. You could call them traditional Republicans, I guess, you know, Reagan Republicans. There's another group that is enthusiastic, recognizes the need to support Ukraine in this fight against a shared enemy in Moscow, but they are worried. And I think part of their worry stems from the Biden administration's unwillingness to really get out front and show a lot of leadership on this.

The president has made statements, but he hasn't given a big speech. He hasn't used any of the occasions that he's had to really lobby the public for this. And that kind of leadership is really necessary because the American public, you know, kind of is normal and has other concerns - the border, inflation, crime, whatever it is. And so for them, this is really a difficult vote. And then there are the last guys, a very small group who simply don't believe that the United States needs to be supporting Ukraine in its battle against Russia. This is their fight, not ours. And it's not critical to American national interests. And why do it?

MARTÍNEZ: That group that you mentioned that is all in, that wants to support Ukraine but is worried, could some of their worry be that they might incur the wrath of Donald Trump?

PLETKA: Of course. And, you know, being primaried by somebody who is supported by Donald Trump is a real danger. You know, these are meant to be leaders, but they're also representatives. And in the House in particular, they're elected every two years. It's an endless slog for money, for votes. And Donald Trump uses the bully pulpit in ways that can be extraordinarily helpful or extraordinarily harmful.

MARTÍNEZ: How much of this is a generational divide, too? I mean, do Republicans today view Russia differently than, say, the way the Soviet Union was viewed in the 20th century?

PLETKA: That's a big deal. And it's not just about the members who may be, you know, older or younger. It's also about the voters. There's a huge divide between millennials, Gen Z and Gen X and older people. There's really no sense of perspective of what the environment was that the United States lived in and led prior to the 1990s. And so there's not a deep understanding in certain sectors about what the costs are when we fail to lead.

MARTÍNEZ: Danny Pletka is a distinguished senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Thanks for your time.

PLETKA: It's my pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALLAH-LAS' "FERUS GALLERY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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