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Rubio Questions Biden Officials on Mismanagement of Ukraine Funds

Nov 8, 2023 | Press Releases

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) questioned officials from the Department of State and an official from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) on U.S. national security interests in Ukraine during a Senate Committee on Foreign Relations hearing. 

  • “People come up to me and say the following, ‘We have 6000 people a day crossing our border. We’ve got all these other needs. We’re running up this enormous debt, and now, obviously, we’ve got to help Israel. We still have to build up our military because the real risk is China. And I hear constantly, ‘Why is Ukraine important in that context?’ and I hear that from people who a year and a half ago wanted to do more.” – Senator Rubio

Click here for video and read a transcript below:

Witnesses:

  • James O’Brien, Assistant Secretary, European and Eurasian Affairs United States Department of State
  • Geoffrey Pyatt, Assistant Secretary, Energy Resources United States Department of State
  • Erin McKee, Assistant Administrator, Europe and Eurasia USAID

RUBIO: Thank you all for coming. It’s my personal belief, and I’ve tried to make this argument that the three challenges of what’s happening in the South China Sea in the Taiwan Straits, what’s happening with Iran’s desire to build an Islamist regional order centered on Tehran, and what’s happening and what Putin has done in Ukraine, that those three things in combination, any one of the three can hold the real risk of escalation and spiraling into something worse. But the combination of the three really are an inflection point that will determine, in my view, much of what the rest of the century is going to look like. It’s in that context, I think we have to analyze what’s happening in Ukraine. I want to be frank with you about our problem. Our problem is, I’m not sure if that argument is from a growing number of people. Let me just be colloquial about it and tell you what I hear. People come up to me and say the following, ‘We have 6000 people a day crossing our border. We’ve got all these other needs. We’re running up this enormous debt, and now, obviously, we’ve got to help Israel. We still have to build up our military because the real risk is China. And I hear constantly, ‘Why is Ukraine important in that context?’ and I hear that from people who a year and a half ago wanted to do more. I hear that from people that are not necessarily fans of Vladimir Putin. I think it’s unfair to say that people that have questions about the effort in Ukraine are somehow pro-Putin. I also think one of the dangers we face in these three challenges that I think are definitional for the rest of the century, is the trade-offs that are going to happen.

We’re going to have to make policy decisions because one of the risks we run is being overextended. Now, I understand, and this is not just critical. I understand and I agree we can’t allow borders to be changed unilaterally, and we have to stand with our allies. I’m not diminishing any of those things, but those arguments are too vague, they make sense here. But I’m just telling you they’re too vague. And I think that this notion that ‘we need to do whatever it takes for however long it takes’ is also misguided. Not because that’s not necessarily what we need to do, but because that’s not going to be enough for people that are asking these questions. So I would just say, if you had an opportunity, any of you three, to talk to someone, like someone that came up to me a week ago, and said, ‘Why are we still putting all this money in Ukraine? I hate Putin, and I hate what he’s done, but we’ve got all these other things domestically and in other parts of the world that are more important, including China, and now,, what’s happening in the Middle East. How are we going to be spending $60 billion every six months? For how long, given the debt that we already have?’ What would you say to them, and how would you explain to them that this fits into our national interest in that perspective I’ve just outlined?

O’BRIEN: That’s really well framed, Senator. So I’ll do my best here. I think the first thing I’d say is you’ve got to shore up your own base. If we’re going to confront China over the next decades, it’s 1 in 1.4 billion people that’s looking to write the rules that the world economy will run on. We go at them with a coalition of 50 odd countries. Europe is about 600 to 700 million of that, we’re 350 million. With that already, we’re set to compete really effectively. Ukraine, though, is a challenge by Putin trying to fray that foundation. So, we have to shore that up if we’re going to have the heft to compete with China over time, the battle over Ukraine also allows us to reinvigorate our own industrial base. We’re creating new energy technologies and putting them in place around the world. We’re building new defense technologies. The work that’s being done in IT, all of that’s included in this supplemental, and that’s going to make us better able to defend Taiwan, to work in the South China Sea than we have otherwise. The final point I’d make is this is the wrong time to walk away, because Ukraine is winning. It’s already taken back half the territory Putin seized since February 22nd, it’s opened up the Black Sea grain lanes that Putin tried to shut down in July. [Ukraine] did that mostly with its own creativity, around a whole set of interesting drones and other technologies that are going to contribute to our security as Ukraine gets closer to NATO. So those are all reasons you don’t walk away when you’re partway through the job.

MCKEE: I would just add  – thank you for the question, it was well framed. My dad asked me the same question: ‘why are we supporting Ukraine?’ and the answer that I gave him was: Number one, if we don’t, American leadership has unlocked the alliances and the mobilization of all of the support that we’ve seen. We’re not alone and we are in this together. And number two, if we falter in our support, Russia will win, and they won’t stop at Ukraine. We have been able to support through economic assistance, humanitarian assistance, and security assistance without having our own soldiers on the ground. We want to do everything we can to prevent that [soldiers on the ground] from happening.