Rand Paul forces delay in Ukraine aid bill even though final passage is assured

You can tell how obnoxious this is from the fact that Mitch McConnell felt obliged to side with Chuck Schumer against Paul in the dispute.

Time is obviously of the essence in Ukraine’s war. If you want to maximize their chances of winning, you want to get this aid package on the books as soon as possible. Equally obvious is the fact that the bill will pass the Senate easily. It passed overwhelmingly in the House a few days ago and will likely draw 80+ votes in the upper chamber, I’d guess. That’s the key fact here. Paul can’t stop this bill.

But he can slow it down a little and hurt the Ukrainian effort by doing so.

Schumer asked for unanimous consent to advance the bill this afternoon, which would have allowed the Senate to skip a bunch of procedural argle-bargle and move to a vote quickly. Unusually, McConnell joined Schumer’s request, a sign that he knew trouble was brewing on his side of the aisle and wanted to signal his opposition to it. No one objected — except Paul.

Paul wanted the $40 billion aid bill rewritten to include a requirement that a U.S. inspector general supervise disbursement of the aid to Ukraine. Schumer said no but tried to compromise by offering to hold a vote on an amendment to that effect submitted by Paul. He could get his IG demand attached if he could persuade a majority of the Senate to adopt it. Fair enough?

No, said Paul. The request for unanimous consent failed.

Rarely is Chuck Schumer right about anything but he’s right here:

“Ukraine is not asking us to fight this war. They’re only asking for the resources they need to defend themselves against this deranged invasion. And they need this help right now,” McConnell said in his own remarks. Again, there’s no question that the bill will pass and the money will be spent. The question for Paul was simply whether he wanted to spite Ukraine’s supporters by doing what he could to hobble the Ukrainian effort with unnecessary delay.

It’ll now take upwards of a week for the Senate to jump through its procedural hoops and pass the bill under regular order.

I’m showing my cards here: I don’t believe that much of the MAGA or MAGA-adjacent caterwauling about the cost of the Ukraine aid bill is on the level. Nationalists have never been sticklers about federal spending, after all. I posted these Mark Levin tweets earlier but let me post them again here.

The ulterior motives are more complicated than wanting to kiss Putin’s ass but Levin’s right to discern that there are ulterior motives. I wrote about that the last time Paul happened to stumble across a Kremlin-friendly talking point in public. The populist right and left resent that Ukraine is demonstrating the strength of the prevailing western liberal order on the battlefield at the expense of one of the great enemies of that order. After all, the more effective the American establishment and the EU look in backing the Ukrainians, the less interest American and European voters will have in replacing either with populist regimes of the right or left.

The aid bill has become a cause for populist grumbling because it channels that dubious ambivalence or even hostility towards a Ukrainian victory into a more politically congenial grievance, exorbitant federal spending and the government’s misplaced priorities:

“I want Russian illiberalism to prevail in Ukraine because it’ll help mainstream authoritarianism in the U.S.” is a hard sell. “Why aren’t we building more baby-formula factories?” is an easier one. Levin knows the game being played, though.

Paul is a little different from the nationalists since he’s a libertarian and comes by his worries about the deficit more honestly. But he’s also a guy who voted for Trump’s tax cuts in 2017 without any guarantee of spending cuts to offset the loss in revenue. And as you’re about to see, he can’t resist lapsing into libertarian boilerplate about America not being the world’s policeman even though no American “police” are in the field in Ukraine. The Ukrainians are policing their own territory. All we’re doing is helping them defend themselves, a concept that libertarians normally support ardently in the context of the Second Amendment and gun rights.

Once more for emphasis: This bill will pass. And because it will, Paul knows that holding it up won’t achieve any of his stated goals but might hurt the Ukrainians at the margins. The fact that he chose to hold it up anyway speaks volumes about his intentions. I hope McConnell exacts some revenge the next time Paul needs something from him.