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Washington Wednesday: Foreign aid in crisis

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WORLD Radio - Washington Wednesday: Foreign aid in crisis

Ukraine funding runs low and congressional divisions hold up aid to Israel. Plus, the Santos expulsion


Representative George Santos during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Nov. 30 Getty Images/Photo by Annabelle Gordon/Bloomberg

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: It’s Wednesday the 6th day of December, 2023.

Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Myrna Brown.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. First up on The World and Everything in It: Washington Wednesday.

Today, a conversation with political scientist and World Opinions contributor Hunter Baker about the end of the career of George Santos.

BROWN: But first, the impasse in Congress over foreign aid to Israel, Ukraine, and beyond.

Here’s Washington Bureau reporter Leo Briceno with the story.

LEO BRICENO, REPORTER: For Jonathan Meola and his wife, Eva, Israel’s war with Gaza is thousands of miles away from their house in Florida, but every bit of news hits close to home. They’re Jewish and dual citizens of the U.S. and Israel who used to live right outside Jerusalem. One of their friends from that season of life, a young man named Ezra, is fighting in Israel’s war with Hamas. WORLD has withheld his last name to protect his family.

JONATHAN MEOLA: He lived with us for the better part of two years. Every Friday night to Saturday night he would pretty much stay with us, bring his friends over. Our house was always full with him and his buddies. Basically, we were basically like their...

EVA: —Kitchen.

JONATHAN: Kitchen. Yeah. Haha my wife’s in the background. He messaged, and he got called back up. And he can’t say much about where he is, but he’s probably in the thick—.”

EVA: He’s in Gaza.

JONATHAN: He’s pretty much on the Gaza frontier. I’ll just leave it at that.

That’s one of the many reasons Jonathan has kept an eye on the $14.3 billion aid package for Israel that’s currently making its way through Congress.

JONATHAN MEOLA: The fact is that if this support passes, it shows that America recognizes and says ‘this is something we know you have to do and at least we’re going to have your back in that.’

But Israel is just one of many countries the United States helps. Between 2012 and 2021 the U.S. spent $500 billion dollars on foreign aid and tens of billions more in the years since then. Some Republicans in Congress are tired of prioritizing foreign crises over problems at home.

Republicans in the Senate and the House of Representatives—won’t pass an aid package unless it also beefs up border security. Democrats have said those are two separate issues and won’t accept an aid package with strings attached. At the same time, some Democrats are calling for conditions to be placed on funding for Israel including a guarantee that the war in Gaza ends with a 2-state solution.

Meanwhile, The Pentagon announced on Monday that it will be unable to continue providing weapons to Ukraine’s war effort without additional funding. Since Russia’s attack last year, the United States has spent over 44 billion dollars on aid to Ukraine.

OWEN: That’s investing in the relationship and both sides plus third parties come to expect that to continue, that relationship to continue.

That’s Dr. John Owen—a professor at the University of Virginia’s Department of Politics and a senior fellow at the Miller Center for Public Affairs. I called him up to learn just how much countries around the world depend on the US for some level of military aid.

OWEN: The U.S. support for Israel of course is massive. Financially it’s our biggest recipient of foreign aid over the years. In the case of Ukraine, the Ukrainians are clearly dependent on the U.S. military and other kinds of aid. The Europeans—who desperately want Russia to if not lose the war then at least stop, stop with the parts of Ukraine it has—are also heavily dependent on the United State continuing to do this.

With Ukraine funding running low, a majority of House Republicans have expressed strong opposition to sending more aid.

But over in the Senate, Republicans are on board with funding Ukraine as long as the package includes measures to secure the U-S Southern border. Yesterday afternoon, the Senate met for a closed door briefing about the aid for Ukraine. Here’s Utah Senator Mitt Romney afterwards:

ROMNEY: We agree Ukraine needs the money, and it's in America's interest to get the money to help Ukraine. But we also recognize that the President put border security on the table as part of this supplemental and unless they're willing to shut down the 10,000 a day being released into the country, they're not going to get a deal done.

While Democrats and Republicans have vastly different foreign policy priorities, legislators in both parties agree that the U.S. has to pass some sort of aid package—and soon. What remains to be seen is whether that agreement also allows them to address the crises at home.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Leo Briceno.

EICHER: In other Washington Wednesday developments, the House vote to expel New York congressman George Santos. The move came after months of investigation into his campaign finances and false statements in the runup to the 2022 midterms.

Back in May, Santos was indicted on 13 charges related to fraud with ten more charges added in October. His trial is scheduled for next September.

Santos is only the 6th House member to be removed by a vote of his peers and the first in recent history to be expelled without a legal finding of guilt.

BROWN: Joining us now to talk about the story is Hunter Baker. He’s a professor of political science at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, and a regular contributor to World Opinions. Good morning Hunter.

BAKER: Good morning.

BROWN: What do you make of the timing for Congress to expel Santos? On the one hand, this is coming months after the truth came out, but on the other hand, it’s weeks or even months before Santos gets his day in court. What does political prudence look like in this kind of situation?

BAKER: Well, he tried to forestall the result by saying that he would not run again. And it is unusual, as you pointed out in the open, that he was expelled without a conviction. You know, the previous people who were expelled from Congress had either joined the Confederate rebellion against the union, or were convicted of crimes related to bribery, you know, directly related to the function of the office. One of them was even captured in an FBI sting back in the 1980s, I think. So this on the one hand, it seems pretty clear, you know, just exactly what he did, and how he defrauded those who contributed to his campaign and spent money on Botox and vacations and things of that nature. But boy, I don't like the precedent of expelling somebody on a mere charge. It seems like anytime you have a closely divided Congress, that there would be a lot of attempts to do this, and maybe try to swing the balance of power.

BROWN: Yeah, because what does this say about, you know, the notion of innocent until proven guilty?

BAKER: Certainly, that's right. And I think this is really not only in politics, but in a broader cultural sort of a sphere, we kind of have evolved the standard of credibly accused. And if somebody is “credibly accused,” there's a lot of pressure to take action. And on the one hand, there are good reasons for that, because you want to protect people from bad actors. But on the other hand, you could definitely sweep up some people who were innocent, or wrongfully charged by that kind of a standard.

BROWN: What does Santos’s expulsion mean for the Republican majority in the House?

BAKER: What it means is it gets that much tighter, right? I think that now, you can probably only afford to lose three or maybe four members if you're the Republicans on a vote. And that is really tight. I mean, when you're talking about a body with over 400 members, you know, and your caucus has, you know, over over 200 in it, it's pretty easy to lose one or two or three or or seven or eight or nine. And so the Republicans are pretty unhappy about this. And the speaker, Mike Johnson, you know, he said he was worried about not waiting for a conviction. And so he voted against the expulsion, certainly, unstated, he was also worried about losing even that little bit of margin.

BROWN: In a recent WORLD Opinions article, you compared the expulsion of Santos from the House to the Senate’s reluctance to do the same to Democratic Senator Bob Menendez after being indicted for corruption and bribery. What’s your assessment?

BAKER: Well, so the thing about Menendez is that it appears that he has used his position to aid the Egyptian government and perhaps to share sensitive information with representatives of the Egyptian government. So on the one hand, you have George Santos with questionable spending of campaign money on himself. I mean, it's shifty, it's stupid, it's bad. But that is really nothing compared to someone perhaps aiding a foreign power through the use of their still more powerful position of Senator. And the excuse so far as the Senate has said, Well, he hasn't had any ethics committee process. But why not, right? Why hasn't that happened? We've been aware of these problems for quite a while now.

BROWN: Hunter Baker is a professor of political science at Union university in Jackson, Tennessee and a regular contributor to World Opinions. Hunter, thank you!

BAKER: Thank you.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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