By Ted Barrett, CNN
Updated: Thu, 19 May 2022 22:51:35 GMT
Several Republican senators told CNN Thursday that despite their votes against a $40 billion military aid package for Ukraine, they do intend to vote to admit Finland and Sweden into NATO when and if that question comes before the Senate.
But some indicated they have not decided whether to approve the expansion the alliance and one conservative, Josh Hawley of Missouri, said he's "undecided" and concerned the US is too involved in security issues in Europe and should be focused on the Asia Pacific.
"I'm undecided," Hawley said. "I want to make sure it will not increase America's security commitments in Europe. Certainly I want to make sure there is no need for more forces. My view is that we need to be, on the whole, doing less in Europe and looking towards the Asia Pacific in terms of our foreign policy challenges."
When asked how to defend against the sudden and ongoing aggression from Russia against Ukraine, Hawley said: "The Europeans need to be doing more," adding he wants to increase the amount of money other NATO countries contribute to the organization.
"It's something I would look at I haven't made a decision," said Sen. Mike Lee, a Republican from Utah. "It's a significant thing. Obviously, I want to consider the proposal."
And Sen. Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, who delayed a final vote on the Ukraine funding for more that week, wouldn't say what he will do on the question about Finland and Sweden.
"We don't have a public statement yet," he said.
In all, 11 Republicans voted against the bill, something that clearly angered Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell who implored his colleagues to back the military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine and send a message to Russian President Vladimir Putin. As the votes were taking place Thursday, McConnell, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and a group of bipartisan senators met off the Senate floor with the President of Finland and Prime Minister of Sweden.
Senators who voted no said they were concerned about the expensive bill's impact on inflation and the US deficit.
But most interviewed by CNN said they saw the fiscal concerns as a separate issue from whether they back Ukraine in its war with Russia or if NATO would be empowered by adding two countries that are in close proximity to Russia. Finland and Sweden have formally applied to join NATO, but Turkey is blocking that for now. Should that change, two-thirds of the Senate would need to vote to alter the treaty, something that would be expected to be approved.
"I'm 100% for that. I think the more that we get in that region to push back on Putin, the better," said Sen. Mike Braun, a Republican of Indiana. "I'm one of the few that votes against policies I like if it's not paid for. Every penny. And in this case I would expect the EU to be matching what we're doing and they are not."
Sen. Tommy Tuberville, a Republican from Alabama, said he would back adding the two countries: "I think it's good for them, good for us. They have good militaries, and they are asking us, we're not asking them, and that's a good thing."
"Yes, I'm supportive of that because it's going to be accretive to NATO's capabilities," said GOP Sen. Bill Hagerty of Tennessee. "I'm very realistic about these situations and the notion that it will bring in allies to NATO that will make it stronger."
Two senators expressed support for growing NATO but said they wanted to learn more details and hear out concerns of other senators.
"Too be honest, I haven't really gotten a briefing yet for what the plan is," said Sen. John Boozman, a Republican from Arkansas. "I'd like the reassurance that if they join they're going to spend money on their defense. Things like that. I just don't have that information. But certainly if they're willing to do what's needed than I would be supportive, but I haven't really had those discussions."
GOP Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho said: "I'd have to look at it, but I certainly think that would be a positive thing. I know where are some people who are critical of it so I want to hear their case. But I'm certainly not opposed to it at this point."
One Republican senator who voted against the Ukraine aid, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, declined to comment on the NATO question.