On the first anniversary of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, Reps. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), Mike Turner (R-Ohio) and Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) issued a fiery joint statement supporting Ukraine.
“The gruesome Russian war crimes and atrocities must end,” they wrote in February last year.
“President Biden needs to stop dragging his feet on providing the lethal aid necessary to end this war. Continued half-measures by the Biden administration will only drive up the cost of this war in lives and dollars,” the trio said.
The statement was notable not only for its vehemence but also for who McCaul, Turner and Rogers are. They head the House committees on foreign affairs, the armed services and intelligence, respectively.
Even as skepticism about helping Ukraine win the bloodiest European conflict since World War II grew within the GOP party, the trio’s stance made them some of Ukraine’s foremost allies in Congress and solidified their nickname among backers of the invaded nation: the “three Mikes.”
However, as the second anniversary nears on Feb. 22, the situation looks almost completely different. All three backed a now-failed strategy to link Ukraine aid to border policy concessions from Democrats. While Ukraine backers believe they can still count on the powerful lawmakers, the ultimate test of their backbone and influence is coming fast.
After tossing Ukraine aid overboard to win passage of a stopgap spending bill in September, Republicans’ plot to tie immigration and Ukraine aid together blew up after GOP senators balked at a carefully crafted bipartisan bill, seemingly following the orders of their Ukraine-skeptic presidential candidate, Donald Trump.
Now, in what may be the last chance for Ukraine to receive the weaponry it said it needed back in September, its aid has been tied with aid for Israel and Taiwan in the Senate.
While it’s likely the Senate will pass the package this week, its fate in the House is hazy, as House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), under pressure from hardliners in his conference and antipathy toward Ukraine among Republican voters in general, has said he thinks the countries should be looked at individually.
And the three Mikes? Their profile for Ukraine has dipped.
When Ukrainians gathered for a rally on Capitol Hill grounds late last month to mark the start of a week of lobbying, none of the three attended, leaving the only Republican lawmaker, Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.), to tell the assembled activists to prosecute their case with members.
It fell to Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission human rights group, to represent Republicans at an early January screening on the Hill for philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy’s new documentary on Ukraine.
One of the Mikes, Rogers, did join in a bipartisan set of pro-Ukraine floor speeches in December.
With it looking more likely that aid for Ukraine and Israel will either be packaged together or not happen at all, it’s unclear how much, if any, the three Mikes will push for Ukraine.
“I don’t see how the speaker puts that on the floor,” Rogers said of the Ukraine-Israel combo last week, “because it still doesn’t deal with the number one issue in America, particularly what we’re hearing from our members, and that’s the border.”
McCaul said Republicans were disappointed to not get border concessions, especially a reinstatement of a policy that allowed border detainees to be kept in Mexico while awaiting the outcomes of their cases. Mexico has said it would not have agreed to renew the policy if the U.S. wanted to reinstate it.
“I think we wanted it,” he said, referring to tougher border security. “But, obviously, the practical matter, though, is I don’t think that’s going to happen now. I think Ukraine gets tied with Israel and countering China.”
The third Mike, though, Turner, spent this past weekend in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv as part of a bipartisan group of House lawmakers and came back warning his fellow Republicans that Ukrainians are already rationing ammo and unable to fully defend themselves.
“This is no longer an issue of ‘When do we support Ukraine?’ If we do not move, this will be abandoning Ukraine.”
So far, Ukraine advocates are inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to the three Mikes, even as they see Republicans in general as the obstacle to getting the aid needed to preserve Ukraine’s freedom.
“They continue to support Ukraine and I’m thankful for this,” Oleksiy Goncharenko said in an email. Goncharenko is a member of the Ukrainian parliament representing the Odesa area who has met with several lawmakers in the U.S. and in Ukraine.
“But in general, there is huge disappointment in what’s going on in the U.S. about support to Ukraine. [The] USA was so united when pressing Ukraine to give up its nuclear weaponry and now, when time came to keep promises to Ukraine which were given at that time — we are hearing about [the] border and are used in the U.S. elections.”
“If it will not be done, that will be the end of the U.S. as [a] reliable partner, the end of nuclear non-proliferation policy, the end of international law, and those who are doing this should be taken to political responsibility,” Goncharenko added.
Doug Klain, policy analyst with advocacy group Razom for Ukraine, said he thought the three Mikes were simply waiting for an opportune time to make an impact.
“We have not yet seen a reason to doubt them,” Klain said. “I don’t think they’re turning their backs on Ukraine and think the focus should still be on the Freedom Caucus and those who have actually taken Ukraine hostage in Congress, but I do wish they would be more vocal in their support at this moment.”
“Now, Congress may end up delinking Ukraine from border security,” Klain added. “I’m in favor of whatever gets Ukraine the help it needs, but my god, how much time and lives have been lost while Congress has done what seems to be a completely meaningless exercise?”
Wilson, known for almost always wearing a Ukrainian flag pin or clothing accessory, said the three Mikes keep pressing, but quietly.
“A majority of Republicans, indeed, understand that Putin is a war criminal. But sadly, we have a faction of isolationists. I really don’t understand,” he told HuffPost. “It has to be at the right time, right place. But they are in place. And we have a majority, a clear majority, support the people of Ukraine and oppose war criminal Putin.”