After Ukraine Aid Vote, Republicans Braced for Backlash Find Little

After Ukraine Aid Vote, Republicans Braced for Backlash Find Little

A week after he broke with the majority of House Republicans and voted to send $60.8 billion in aid to Ukraine, Representative Max Miller took the stage at a performing arts center in his Ohio district bracing for backlash.

Instead, Mr. Miller, a first-term congressman who spent four years in the White House as a top aide to former President Donald J. Trump, was greeted at a town hall-style meeting on Saturday in the city of Solon with a sustained round of applause. Several attendees stood to publicly thank him for his vote, and a line of locals queued up afterward to shake his hand.

“Anything we can do to support the Ukrainian victory over the Russian invasion would be a positive thing for the world,” said Randy Manley, a retiree from Strongsville, Ohio, who said he planned to vote for Mr. Trump in November.

More than 500 miles west, in Iowa City, Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks, a vulnerable Republican who won her district by six points in 2020, had a similar experience.

Kenneth Kirk, 62, a resident of Newton, Iowa, arrived at a fund-raiser for Ms. Miller-Meeks headlined by Speaker Mike Johnson — who had risked his job to push through the aid — primed to rail against the money for Ukraine.

“We’re bankrupt, and if we can afford to send that kind of money to another country, we’re paying too much taxes,” Mr. Kirk said. But hearing from Mr. Johnson changed his mind, he said.

“I know a little bit more about it now that I’ve listened to him,” Mr. Kirk said. “I mean, I thought, ‘I’m against it,’ but, you know — what do I do? What he said made a lot of sense to me.”

The reactions suggested that even as Republicans are waging an internal war over aiding Ukraine — one that is continuing even after the funding package cleared Congress and was signed into law — the issue is more divisive in their own ranks than it is among many of their constituents.

Immediately after the vote last weekend, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, the right-wing Republican who threatened to oust Mr. Johnson for allowing the vote, predicted that her colleagues who backed the measure would have hell to pay.

“I’m actually going to let my colleagues go home and hear from their constituents,” she said at the time. Washington lawmakers, Ms. Greene said, were so “obsessed with voting for foreign wars” that they had lost sight of how irate Americans were. She expected her Republican colleagues would join her push to remove Mr. Johnson after getting an earful from their constituents.

In some bright red districts, voters’ frustration was palpable over the weeklong recess after the vote.

“They’re very angry — it wasn’t even a close call,” Representative Chip Roy, Republican of Texas, who voted against aid for Ukraine, said after hearing from his constituents.

Mr. Miller had come prepared to defend himself from just that sort of reaction. He pre-emptively told the crowd in Solon that 80 percent of the funding for Kyiv would actually stay in the United States, where it would be used to purchase equipment for U.S. troops and flow to American manufacturers who would make the weapons to replenish U.S. stockpiles.

But he encountered little resistance from residents of his solidly Republican district in northeastern Ohio.

“It’s a security issue,” said Elyssa Olgin, who works in public relations and lives in Solon. “I have two boys; I don’t want them fighting there.”

Ms. Miller-Meeks said constituents had told her, “Thank you for not caving in.”

Even those who disagreed with her vote, she said, were “respectful of the fact that I’m willing to talk about it and I don’t hide from it.”

Representative Ashley Hinson, Republican of Iowa, said she found voters changed their minds when she explained why she voted for Ukraine aid after meeting with President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv.

“People understand, especially hearing someone like Mike Johnson tee it up and talk about how all these things are interconnected: Russia, Iran and China,” she said.

About 61 percent of Republican voters say the United States should not send weapons or military aid to Ukraine, according to a CBS poll this month. In an interview, Mr. Johnson said many Republicans had “voted no but prayed yes,” in part because “they just didn’t want to have to go home and try to explain that.”

But even opponents of the bill noted that voters’ resistance was not as passionate as the rebellion over it on Capitol Hill.

“A lot of people are saying ‘Hey, we want you guys to be united,’” Mr. Roy said, describing his constituents’ sentiments about ousting Mr. Johnson over the vote. “That’s the conundrum here.”

Ms. Greene strongly suggested on Tuesday that she would move ahead with her threat to call a vote on removing Mr. Johnson, after Democrats confirmed they would vote to kill any such bid.

Her effort has laid bare how toxic the divide is among House Republicans even after the vote.

At his town hall, Mr. Miller denounced Ms. Greene as someone who “spouted Russian disinformation.” He also chastised a majority of Republicans who voted against the aid as people who “don’t have the moral courage to take a tough vote.”

He also claimed that Mr. Trump, with whom he still speaks regularly, agreed with him.

“Did anyone notice he was very quiet on everything?” Mr. Miller said of the former president. “There’s a reason for that. Because he wanted it to happen.”

Representative Tony Gonzales, a Texas Republican who also voted for the Ukraine aid bill, said on Sunday on CNN, “I serve with some real scumbags.”

He was referring to Representatives Matt Gaetz of Florida and Representative Bob Good of Virginia, both of whom have vocally opposed Ukraine aid.

“Matt Gaetz, he paid for minors to have sex with him at drug parties,” Mr. Gonzales said, repeating allegations connected to a sex-trafficking case that the Justice Department investigated before declining to bring charges. “Bob Good endorsed my opponent, a known neo-Nazi.”

Mr. Miller called the two and their like-minded colleagues “the clown caucus.”

He also criticized Senator J.D. Vance of Ohio, one of the most prominent Republican voices urging his colleagues to oppose aid to Ukraine. “He’s a one-issue senator, and it’s all about Ukraine,” Mr. Miller said. “He thinks this is his winning issue and topic to be vice president. His rhetoric is very dangerous.”

Mr. Johnson, for his part, traveled to nine states over the recess, raising money for Republicans including Ms. Miller-Meeks and Mr. Gonzales, who both voted for the aid and are facing tough re-election races. Mr. Johnson’s takeaway from the experience, he said, was that the anger directed at him on social media did not translate into real life.

“Among the people who attend rallies and write checks to the cause and the grass-roots activists, I think people understood that this was a historic moment for us,” the speaker said. “It makes sense to people. I think they understood.”

Mr. Johnson added that he had been surprised and disappointed that a majority of House Republicans had voted against the aid to Ukraine. He had harsh words for the opponents.

“I just thought that was a dereliction of duty,” said Mr. Johnson, who as a rank-and-file lawmaker largely opposed efforts to fund Kyiv’s war effort and as speaker hesitated for months before bringing it to the floor. “But it is what it is. We got it done.”

If Ms. Greene expected that grass-roots anger would boil over after the vote and translate into more Republicans joining her in supporting the move to oust him, Mr. Johnson said he believed the opposite had happened.

“I think it will be easier in the days ahead,” the speaker said. “I think some of the really tough issues are now behind us.”

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