Defense & National Security — MAGA, Reagan Republicans spar over Ukraine

A GOP civil war is building between Reagan Republicans and more isolationist MAGA Republicans over U.S. policy toward Russia and Ukraine.  

We’ll talk about the tensions. Plus, we’ll take a look at how massive legislation aimed at supporting toxic-exposed veterans will help veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange outside of Vietnam.   

This is Defense & National Security, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. For The Hill, I’m Jordan WilliamsSubscribe here.

GOP civil war builds over Ukraine

A GOP civil war is building over U.S. policy toward Russia and Ukraine, pitting Reagan Republicans against more isolationist MAGA Republicans who take their political cues from former President Trump.  

The Reagan Republicans have been winning the battle, but the continued fight could shape future U.S. policy if the GOP takes the House or Senate in this fall’s midterms. 

Sending warning shots: GOP lawmakers who want to continue U.S. support for Ukraine are sending out warning signals, calling for the U.S. to keep up its backing for Kyiv regardless of which party holds the congressional majorities.   

  • “If freedom is under assault by dictatorship and we don’t back up freedom, then what message does that send?” Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), who sits on the House Intelligence and House Foreign Affairs committees and who worked in Ukraine as an FBI agent, told The Hill in an interview. 
  • Most GOP lawmakers have backed military aide to Ukraine, but Fitzpatrick said he senses support waning.   

Why some Republicans oppose: GOP lawmakers who oppose support for Ukraine largely say they do not want to send money abroad when it can be used in the U.S. to fortify the southern border and invest in domestic energy production, among other issues.   

In May, 57 House Republicans voted against a $40 billion aid package to Ukraine. The “no” votes included some of Trump’s most loyal allies, including Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.) and Matt Gaetz (Fla.).  

In a tweet, Gaetz committed to ending U.S. support for Ukraine if Republicans take control of the House after November.   

Meanwhile, on the left: Some Democrats say they are confident that the majority of their Republican colleagues will continue to support U.S. assistance for Ukraine.   

“I actually think there’s been very strong bipartisan support for Ukraine. It was a minority of people who voted against the aid, and they sort of vote against everything. I don’t expect that to change,” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), co-chair of the Senate NATO Observer Group and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told The Hill.   

Others are much more concerned: Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.), a former CIA official who serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called a potential GOP majority “deeply concerning” because “we see such an extremist element on the other side of the aisle that’s self-aligning with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, as well as a whole host of others with extreme positions.” 

Read more here.

Kirby blasts rhetoric over possible Pelosi Taiwan visit

White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby on Tuesday said China’s “escalatory” rhetoric ahead of a potential trip from Speaker Nancy Pelosi
(D-Calif.) to Taiwan is “clearly unhelpful and not necessary.” 

  • Kirby told CNN’s John Berman that Pelosi has yet to formally announce a trip to Taiwan, a self-governing island nation off the coast of China, and the U.S. has not changed its policies concerning the two countries. 
  • “That kind of rhetoric coming out of the Chinese side is clearly unhelpful and not necessary,” Kirby said. “Again, there’s been no trip announced and there’s no call for that kind of escalatory rhetoric.” 

What China has said: The People’s Republic of Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian last week warned the Speaker’s visit would result in “strong and resolute measures” against the U.S. because it would violate the “One China” policy, which recognizes Taiwan as part of the mainland. 

“It will have a severe negative impact on the political foundation of China-US relations, and send a gravely wrong signal to ‘Taiwan independence’ separatist forces,” he said. 

Why the trip matters: Whispers of a potential Pelosi visit to Taiwan, which could happen in early August, began circulating over the spring, with reports that she might lead a delegation there. 

If Pelosi were to stop at the island, she’d be the most senior U.S. official to visit Taiwan since former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) in 1997. 

Read more here.

Bill set to expand for Agent Orange-exposed vets

Tens of thousands of Vietnam-era veterans stand to benefit as Congress nears the finish line on massive legislation to expand health coverage for those exposed to toxins during their military service. 

The Sgt. 1st Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our PACT Act — which is mainly aimed at expanding care to veterans exposed to toxic burn pits — also expands care to veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange outside of Vietnam. 

The provisions are a win for veterans advocacy groups, who say that the bill expands a narrow understanding of exposure to the herbicide, which has been linked to a variety of illnesses. 

How many vets would benefit? The Congressional Budget Office estimated last year that about 50,000 veterans and survivors of deceased veterans would receive compensation due to the PACT Act expanding presumptive exposures outside of Vietnam. 

The agency also estimated that 51,000 veterans would receive compensation under another provision that would presume hypertension was caused by exposure to Agent Orange. That number would increase to about 464,000 by 2031. 

  • Asked about how many veterans stand to benefit from the Agent Orange provisions of the bill, the VA told The Hill that it would make those estimates once the PACT Act has been passed. 
  • “It will take several weeks to develop these projections after the final PACT Act language is received,” the agency said. 

A history lesson: Veterans who were deployed in Vietnam were first granted presumed coverage for Agent Orange-related illnesses in 1991 under the Agent Orange Act. 

  • Agent Orange was the most-used herbicide during the Vietnam War, where it was deployed to clear out forests and vegetation that could be used by enemy forces. 
  • The U.S. also used the herbicide along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, which connected northern and southwest Vietnam via military transport routes through Laos and Cambodia. The herbicide was also used in Thailand to clear jungle around military bases. 

What happens now? The House most recently passed the PACT Act on July 13 by a vote of 342-88, about a month after the Senate passed the bill by a bipartisan 84-14 vote. 

The upper chamber must pass the measure again, as the House version of the bill includes technical changes from the measure passed last month. The bill then heads to President Biden’s desk, where he is expected to sign it. 

Read more here.

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

  • The Korean War Veterans Memorial Foundation will host the Korean War Veterans Memorial Wall of Remembrance Dedication Ceremony at 9 a.m. 
  • The Center for Strategic and International Studies will hold a discussion on “The Future of Arms Control, Strategic Stability and the Global Order” at 9 a.m. 
  • The Association of the United States Army will begin the ASUA Warfighter Summit & Exposition at 9:30 a.m. 
  • The National Defense Industrial Association will host the 2022 CBRN Defense Conference and Exhibition at 9:30 a.m. 
  • The Atlantic Council will host a discussion on “Future Foreign Policy: A new nuclear era?” at 12 p.m. ET 

    HOUSE

  • The Intelligence Committee will hold a full committee hearing on “Combatting the Threats to U.S. National Security from the Proliferation of Foreign Commercial Spyware” at 10 a.m. 
  • The Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation will hold a hearing on “Enhancing Personnel Resources to Support a Stronger, More Resilient Coast Guard” at 10 a.m. 
  • The Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Technology Modernization will hold a meeting on “Protecting Our Veterans: Patient Safety and Electronic Health Record Modernization Program” at 10 a.m. 
  • The Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border Security, Facilitation & Operations will hold a hearing “Assessing CBP’s Use of Facial Recognition Technology” at 2 p.m. 

    SENATE 

  • The Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing on “U.S. National Security And Economic Statecraft: Ensuring U.S. Global Leadership For The Twenty-First Century” at 9:30 a.m. 
  • The Foreign Relations Committee will hold a nominations hearing at 11:30 a.m. 
  • The Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing on “FY2023 Budget Request for Africa” at 2 p.m. 
  • The Veterans’ Affairs Committee will hold a nominations hearing at 2:15 p.m.

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • Lawmakers ask watchdog to step aside from probe into ‘erased’ Secret Service texts 
  • NASA director says Russian counterparts have not officially backed out of ISS

That’s it for today! Check out The Hill’s Defense and National Security pages for the latest coverage. See you tomorrow!

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