GOP lawmakers take Trump’s policy orders with a grain of salt

Republicans in Congress are taking former President Trump’s policy directives with more than a few grains of salt, signaling they view what he says about issues as mainly for dramatic effect on the campaign trail.

Congress in recent weeks passed an extension of the warrantless surveillance program, and sent to President Biden a major foreign aid package that includes $61 billion for Ukraine.

Trump supported neither effort: He publicly opposed the reauthorization of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) program and aid to Ukraine.

It’s not as if Republicans are ignoring Trump; more House Republicans voted against money for Ukraine than for it.

But Trump’s 0-2 record on Congress’s big policy bills shows GOP leaders who differ with Trump on policy, notably Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), can still wield influence.

And Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), while aligned with Trump, has not been afraid to put measures on the House floor that Trump disagrees with.

Two of Trump’s staunchest allies in the House, Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), led opposition to Ukraine funding in the House.

Greene has even filed a motion to vacate the Speaker’s chair to boot Johnson out of his job because of her displeasure over how he handled the issue.

Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.) praised Johnson on Tuesday for managing Trump’s opposition and helping convince the former president to back away from his full-throated attempt to derail the Ukraine funding package when it came to the Senate floor in February.

“His engagement, I think, with the former president probably was helpful because there was a fairly strong position prior in opposition,” Thune said of Johnson’s recent outreach to Trump, including a trip to Mar-a-Lago in mid-April.

Trump made waves in February when he declared at a campaign rally in South Carolina that he told “one of the presidents of a big country” that if NATO allies didn’t pay their dues, he would not come to their aid if attacked by Russian forces and would instead “encourage them to do whatever the hell they want.”

Shortly before the Senate voted on its $95 billion foreign aid package, which included $61 billion for Ukraine, two months ago, Trump posted on his social media site: “WE SHOULD NEVER GIVE MONEY ANYMORE WITHOUT THE HOPE OF PAYBACK, OR WITHOUT ‘STRINGS’ ATTACHED.”


The presumptive GOP nominee for president warned in February of last year that Biden was “systematically, but perhaps unknowingly, pushing us into what could be WORLD WAR III” by intervening in the Ukrainian war.

The Senate nevertheless went ahead and passed money for Ukraine with 70 votes in February, including the support of 22 Republicans.

McConnell hailed that vote as a major success because he garnered the support of nearly half of his conference even though Trump was making calls lobbying against the bill.

The Senate GOP leader won a bigger victory Tuesday, when 31 Republicans voted to advance the House-approved foreign aid package, which largely resembled the bill that was on the Senate floor two months ago.

McConnell blamed former Fox News host Tucker Carlson for leading the “demonization” of U.S. support for the war in Ukraine and said Trump voiced “mixed views” on the issue.

While many MAGA-aligned Republicans and Senate Republican candidates continue to espouse isolationist views when it comes to the war and the NATO alliance, McConnell said Tuesday he thinks his side has the upper hand after the overwhelming Senate vote.

“I think we’ve turned the corner on this argument. We went from 22 [Senate Republican] votes to at least 30,” he noted. “The House [GOP conference] is about 50-50, as we thought would happen if they voted on it.”

Thirty-one GOP senators voted to advance the bill Tuesday, eight more than who voted for it earlier this year.

On Saturday, 101 House Republicans voted for the Ukraine aid, while 112 voted against it.

“I think we’ve turned the corner on the isolationist movement. I’ve noticed how uncomfortable the proponents of that are when you call them isolationists. I think we’ve made some progress,” McConnell told reporters.

Sen. JD Vance (R-Ohio), who played a leading role in opposing the Ukraine aid package, however, said Trump kept largely quiet about the bill in recent weeks because he wants to preserve his leverage to end the conflict if elected president in November.

“I think that he has intentionally … stayed out of this. He doesn’t involve himself in every single debate that we have over here. He could have weighed in, and I think he very intentionally chose not to,” he said.

“The argument Trump has made is this would have never happened if he were president, and he wants the killing to stop. And I think it’s important for him to actually maintain some leverage and flexibility when he becomes president,” Vance added.

Trump played a more active role this month when he urged GOP lawmakers to “kill FISA.”


That, however, didn’t stop a two-year reauthorization of FISA’s warrantless surveillance program from passing both chambers with strong bipartisan support.

A majority of House Republicans — 126 — voted for the bill, while 88 voted against it.

In the Senate, 30 Republicans voted for the extension of surveillance powers, while 16 voted “no.”

Alarmed GOP lawmakers rebelled against Trump’s call to block the reauthorization of the spy program, arguing that letting it lapse would put the nation at risk.

“I’m very disappointed in President Trump’s assessment of FISA. It is an essential tool. It may need to be amended but it is absolutely essential, as everyone in the intelligence community will tell you,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a senior member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the Republican vice chair of the Intelligence Committee, warned: “If we can’t spy on foreign terrorists and foreign spies overseas, we’re out of the intelligence business.”

Rubio noted to The Hill on Tuesday that Republicans voted to reauthorize FISA’s warrantless surveillance program with Trump’s support when he was president.

And he pointed out that Trump was wrong to blame the FBI wiretap on his former campaign aide Carter Page in 2016 on the surveillance program authorized by FISA’s Section 702, which was the law reauthorized by Congress last week.

“We actually had reforms in this bill that would have prevented potentially them from even getting that warrant. In the one we just passed, you can’t use political opposition research as part of your warrant [request],” he pointed out in response to Trump’s criticism.

Rubio said Trump never weighed in with him directly about the reauthorization program, despite his attention-grabbing post on Truth Social.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of Trump’s closest allies in the Senate, argued that Trump had an influence on both the Ukraine funding package and the FISA reauthorization by demanding that some of the aid to Ukraine come in the form of a loan and to limit the FISA extension to two years instead of five years.

The House included a provision directing the president to structure $10 billion in economic assistance to Ukraine as a loan, but it also gave Biden or a future president the power to waive repayment.

“He supported it as a loan, and it passed,” Graham argued. “He said, ‘I will support a loan.’ And part of it is a loan.”

“He said he supported FISA for two years, not five. He didn’t oppose FISA forever,” Graham said of Trump’s stance on warrantless surveillance. “When they said we’ll make it two years so we can review it again, he said ‘OK.’”

And Graham predicted a larger portion of any future Ukraine assistance package will be set up as a loan.

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