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Chair of the Congressional Ukraine Caucus says U.S. must act now to assist Ukraine

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Have Republicans become isolationist when it comes to a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine? Fox News host Tucker Carlson, an influential figure in a Republican Party now embodied by Donald Trump, has called Ukraine strategically irrelevant to the U.S. and suggested that Russian troops entering Ukraine are no different than undocumented immigrants coming over the U.S.-Mexico border. But Republican Representative Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, who's co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional Ukraine Caucus, said on Twitter, the U.S. must act now to deliver security assistance and defensive military aid. Representative Fitzpatrick joins us. Thanks for being with us.

BRIAN FITZPATRICK: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

SIMON: Let me get your estimation of what Tucker Carlson said. And a couple of other members of Congress of your own party have said that Ukraine is strategically irrelevant to U.S. interests.

FITZPATRICK: Ukraine is incredibly important to the world's interests. I was an FBI agent prior to being in Congress. My last international assignment was in Ukraine. I worked in the embassy in Kyiv - working specifically counterintelligence and cybersecurity issues mainly dealing with Russian propaganda. And this is something that's been years in the making. And we have to be unequivocal and unapologetic that we stand with Ukraine and Ukrainians - we have their back - and that it is not OK for a nation to invade and violate the territorial borders and the territorial integrity of a foreign nation. It's that simple. Russia will not...

SIMON: Well, let me ask, representative, just 'cause it's a live interview, and we're pressed for time.

FITZPATRICK: Sure.

SIMON: It might be that simple, but is it that - is that relevant to American security interests?

FITZPATRICK: One hundred percent because Ukraine - I mean, if Russia were to successfully invade Ukraine, these troops that are now amassed on the Russian border would now be amassed on the Ukrainian border with Romania and Poland, two NATO members. Vladimir Putin will not stop with Ukraine. Moreover, other bad actors will get a signal - China vis-a-vis Taiwan, North Korea vis-a-vis South Korea, Iran vis-a-vis Israel. This will send a signal that it will be the Wild West internationally if we don't stand together as an international community and push back on this.

SIMON: Did President Donald Trump, with his frequent praise for Vladimir Putin, make the Republican Party the party of Russia?

FITZPATRICK: Well, as far as the previous administration goes, none of this was happening during that. So, you know, Afghanistan is happening under this current administration. Russia and Ukraine are happening under this current administration. There are - plenty of comments were made in the previous administration that I publicly pushed back on - on this network, by the way - specifically with regard to the Helsinki summit. But these - this aggression is occurring now. And we have to ask why it's occurring now, and we have to push back on it.

SIMON: Well, but you still have Republicans who are saying - I mean, Matt Rosendale of Montana says, despite claims by war hawks on both sides of the aisle, it's not in our national interest.

FITZPATRICK: Yeah, I think what you're seeing here is the arc where liberal and libertarian foreign policy perspectives arc and meet together. The libertarian view of foreign policy is isolationist. I disagree with that. I think it's a very naive view. If you don't understand that what happens in other countries impacts not just that region but the world, including the United States, then you haven't learned the lessons of history.

SIMON: Has President Biden - what do you think of what he's done so far?

FITZPATRICK: Well, I hope he steps it up and - both in terms of level of support and timing. Ukrainians have gotten about 25% of what they asked for so far. They have received some Javelins. They've come late. The Javelins are the anti-tank defense system. They have not received any anti-aircraft defense systems. That is incredibly important that they get that.

SIMON: Yeah. What do you tell people in your district who might ask you now, why should I care about who's in power in Ukraine?

FITZPATRICK: Because we live in a very small world, and democracy is - a threat to democracy in Europe is a threat to democracy in the United States. And those are the lessons of history. If you don't nip a problem in the bud early on, it becomes a much bigger, much more costly problem to deal with. When we defended Kuwait in Operation Desert Storm - I'm sorry - Desert Shield - we sent a message to the world that you cannot violate the territorial integrity of an independent nation. And Ukraine should be no different. We have to send a very strong and unequivocal message to Vladimir Putin, which would also be a message to Xi Jinping, to Kim Jong Un and other bad actors around the world that this is not OK to do.

SIMON: Republican Representative Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, thanks so much for being with us.

FITZPATRICK: Thank you, sir. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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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.