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Rep. Ralph Norman on why certain Republicans are questioning U.S. aid to Ukraine

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

A sharp debate has broken out about U.S. support for Ukraine among Republicans. Governor Ron DeSantis has said that what he calls a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia is not a vital interest for the United States. Former President Donald Trump says the governor is just echoing him. Congress has approved more than $112 billion in aid to Ukraine, more than half of it in military assistance since Russia's invasion began a year ago. Representative Ralph Norman of South Carolina is among those Republicans who questioned continuing U.S. support. He joins us now from Rock Hill, S.C.

Thank you for being with us.

RALPH NORMAN: My pleasure. Glad to be with you.

SIMON: What are your concerns, sir?

NORMAN: Well, the concerns that most - that I think all Americans are concerned with and are asking is this - where is the money coming from? We put well over 100 billion into Ukraine in 2022 alone. That's a concern of the money that we have already put in that we don't have. We're borrowing the money. Secondly, this administration has always said to pay your fair share, particularly on those in the - he's justifying lavish tax increases on the so-called rich paying their fair share. As it comes to Ukraine, EU countries are not paying their fair share, as in Germany, as in Great Britain, as in the balance of the countries that make up the EU.

There is a case to be made for helping Ukraine. It's a vital interest. The problem - the other question we ought to - that I think people are asking - the actions of this administration have proven to be weak. Look at what Russia is doing with shooting down our drone. Look at what China is doing with the balloon that surveilled. Where, when are we going to start putting America's safety? When are we going to start securing our borders, putting money for that?

SIMON: You seem to dispute Governor DeSantis, though, in that you say that Ukraine's survival with secure borders is in the vital interest of the United States.

NORMAN: They're fighting for what we're fighting for - freedom. Russia is not our friend. But how much is enough? Where is the oversight? It's our money. And again, why aren't the other countries that have a vital interest putting up money?

SIMON: Well, does the United States really have any way of persuading Germany, United Kingdom, European Union to come up with more money?

NORMAN: Well, it's not fair to have us carry the bulk of the load. They haven't stepped up. And look at the - their interests are at stake. And the other...

SIMON: I have to - wouldn't Germany and France and the U.K. all say of course they've stepped up?

NORMAN: Stepped up in what way?

SIMON: Given money, given military intelligence assistance and material.

NORMAN: It's a small drop in the bucket compared to what we've done.

SIMON: Well, they're smaller countries with smaller defense budgets.

NORMAN: I get that, but they're slower to coming to the table. We're operating on borrowed money.

SIMON: Well, let me ask. Last fall, progressive House Democrats sent a letter to the White House urging the U.S. to pursue a diplomatic solution between Ukraine and Russia. The speaker and other House leaders got them to pull it back. But do you agree with what those progressive Democrats said?

NORMAN: To pursue diplomatic...

SIMON: Yeah.

NORMAN: Absolutely - to pursue them. But how did that work?

SIMON: Well, I don't think we know anything more than the letter, but the implication was that a diplomatic solution had to be pursued before more military assistance was offered.

NORMAN: Well, yeah, but diplomacy has not worked. They're under massive invasion by a country that wants to take them over. If you look at the aerials of what's happened in that country, it's catastrophic. And so diplomacy is out the window now.

SIMON: As I don't have to tell you, there are a lot of Republicans in the Senate who disagree with you...

NORMAN: Yeah.

SIMON: ...Including your senator, Lindsey Graham.

NORMAN: Yeah, we disagree on this.

SIMON: Are you concerned that if Vladimir Putin thinks Republicans won't back Ukraine, he can force the U.S. to withdraw support and get Ukraine to cede some some land or change governments?

NORMAN: He would do what's in the best interests of Russia. Vladimir Putin is a thug. Look what he's doing to an innocent country that didn't deserve this.

SIMON: Then how do you wind up saying, but, you know, we can't offer any more support to Ukraine for resisting this thug?

NORMAN: Well, we're two year - we started in '22. This is '23. I mean, how much - again, when is enough enough for the American people to digest? And show me where the money is going. Show me where we're getting it. And then show me where the other countries have stepped up, as this president says, to pay their fair share. This is in their interests as well, because they could be the next country that is in the sights of Putin. It's dangerous what this administration has done to America, with Soviet Union, with China, with Iraq, Iran getting together over the weakness of this administration.

SIMON: Then again, I have to renew the question, how does that translate to reducing aid for Ukraine? How would that make the U.S. look stronger?

NORMAN: Well, everything is taking place now as a direct result of the actions of this administration. And we've done our fair share with with Ukraine. And now's the time to put a stop to it. And let's address some of the problems we have and have the debate over Ukraine. I'm not saying it's not an important issue, but we've got to take care of America. And this president is not doing it and has no interest in it.

SIMON: Representative Ralph Norman of South Carolina.

Thank you so much for being with us, sir.

NORMAN: Yes, sir. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.