Judy B. is a 64-year-old professional therapist who lives in the Houston area. She’s also a Republican who wants the United States to give more aid to Ukraine as it tries to eject Russian troops who invaded in 2022.
And now she’s the star of one of the ads trying to convince other Republicans to also support Ukraine. Hers is a 30-second YouTube ad that will appear nationally, sponsored by the group Republicans for Ukraine.
“We’re the leader of democracy in the world,” she told HuffPost, saying her desire to speak out stemmed from her belief the U.S. has a unique responsibility to defend democracy globally.
“This is what we do,” she said, “regardless of party.”
While Judy, who agreed to talk on the condition that her last name not be publicly disclosed, is bullish on supporting Ukraine, many in her party have soured on supporting the war. Opponents cite more immediate needs at home, fear of an escalation by Russian President Vladimir Putin or worry over his increased ties with China since the war began. An August CNN poll found 71% of Republicans did not support further aid.
“This is what we do, regardless of party.”
As Putin’s opponent Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy meets with President Joe Biden and lawmakers on Capitol Hill this week to make his case for more aid and more capable weapons, it’s a perilous time for the aid request.
After weeks of bite-size intermittent battlefield gains, the Ukrainian counteroffensive has picked up momentum recently, seeing victories in the southern and eastern regions. While slow, the initiative has begun bearing some fruit.
But at the same time, many Republicans in the House, reflecting the mood of the party members at the ground level, have gone wobbly in terms of support. One group, the House Freedom Caucus, has held up spending bills needed to keep the government open and one of its demands is no unconditional support for Ukraine.
And House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) will not meet with Zelenskyy individually, but instead as part of a small group meeting of House lawmakers and party leaders.
“Where’s the accountability in the money we’ve already spent? What is the plan for victory? I think that’s what the American public wants to know,” McCarthy told reporters.
“The coming weeks will be critical for America and for Ukraine,” said Gunner Ramer, spokesman for Republicans for Ukraine. The group is a campaign of Defending Democracy Together, a nonprofit activist group founded by old-line conservatives like Bill Kristol and Mona Charen.
“The MAGA Republicans are so opposed to supporting Ukraine that they’re willing to shut down the government over it. Failing to provide this funding would be disastrous, leaving our Ukrainian ally without the military and humanitarian resources necessary to defend their territory and their democracy,” Ramer said.
The group in August announced a $1 million ad campaign to go through the end of the year. It spent some of that on an ad during the first GOP presidential debate and now some of it will be put to use as the spending fight may be nearing a conclusion.
In addition to the YouTube ad, the group will be airing 30-second ads on Fox News between Sept. 18 and Sept. 22 as well as during four of the Sunday morning news interview shows.
“Where’s the accountability in the money we’ve already spent? What is the plan for victory? I think that’s what the American public wants to know.”
The group also launched a “report card,” assessing Republican House members’ stances on Ukraine and grading them A through F. The biggest groupings were found on the ends of the grading scale, with 82 As and 72 Fs. Sixty-eight Republicans were given grades between those extremes.
President Joe Biden has proposed about $20 billion in Ukraine-related assistance, as part of a larger $40 billion supplemental Ukraine and national disaster aid package that could ride along with a temporary spending bill to keep the government open past Sept. 30.
As of September, the United States has already committed about $77 billion in direct assistance to Ukraine since the war started in February 2022. That’s slightly less than half as much as contributions from European nations, through both collective organizations like the European Commission and as individual countries, according to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy.
“If we allow Ukraine to be carved up, is the independence of any nation secure? I would respectfully suggest the answer is ‘no,’” said President Joe Biden in his address to the United Nations Tuesday. Zelenskyy has said if Ukraine loses, surrounding nations in NATO could be attacked, drawing the U.S. into the war.
After initially joining the national wave of support for Ukraine after Russia’s unprovoked attack, Republican enthusiasm for giving aid has steadily fallen. That has been reflected in the stances of some of the Republican presidential candidates.
Former President Donald Trump has suggested that further aid be withheld until the FBI, the Justice Department and the Internal Revenue Service hand over records House Republicans can use to investigate President Biden. Vivek Ramaswamy opposes more aid, saying supporting Ukraine is pushing Russia and China together, while Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has said Europe needs to pay its fair share of the costs before more aid is sent.
Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.), the only Ukrainian-American in Congress, said the split with her fellow Republicans was in part due to Russian propaganda.
“I think they’ve been very effective now in making our base very upset,” she told reporters Tuesday.
But she also said the stakes of the war, which Ukraine supporters say include incentives for strong countries to invade weaker neighbors if Ukraine is abandoned and the eventual involvement of NATO, have not been conveyed to the American public.
“I also think it’s important to communicate to our base and our people,” she said.
For Judy B., a Republican for 40 years, it all goes back to the role of the U.S. in protecting and defending democracy globally.
“This is the essence of what we do as Americans,” she said. “If we’re not going to do this, who will?”