Why is hardly anyone in the media seeing Trump’s border-deal move as the two-fer it so obviously is?
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The mediaverse lit up with and about Donald Trump’s recent posts urging Republicans in Congress not to make a deal with Joe Biden on an immigration reform package that would give them almost all of the policies they have been demanding regarding the border with Mexico.
Strangely, much less has been said about what Biden has been hoping to receive in return for these unprecedented concessions from Democrats: $60 billion in military aid to Ukraine.
Invaded by Russia in February 2022, for two years Ukraine has surprised the world by resisting the might of the Russian military, which many believed would rapidly gain control of the region. Nations around the world have contributed money and material aid, realizing that a successful invasion would likely embolden Vladimir Putin for further military adventurism. People from many different nations have volunteered to serve in Ukraine, spurred by a shared recognition that Russia was the clear aggressor against a sovereign nation.
As of January 23, the United States has officially run out of money to aid Ukraine. The Biden administration, after unsuccessfully negotiating for months for money from Congress, has been reduced to asking its international allies to bridge the gap until a bill including funding can be passed. However, such a bill is now in real jeopardy of not materializing for the rest of Biden’s term.
And should Trump win in November, US aid for Ukraine will likely never come. While Trump has repeatedly bragged he could solve the Ukraine crisis in one day, he has, not surprisingly, offered no details as to how he would pull off that feat. It is feared that he would accomplish it by demanding Ukraine cede land in return for peace, rewarding Russia’s invasion.
There is a laundry list of Trump’s assistance to Putin during the former’s disastrous presidential term, including weakening NATO, withdrawing the US from leadership in international affairs, and taking Putin’s word over the findings of Trump’s own intelligence agencies.
Ain’t Is Broke, Why Fix It?
There’s precious little that is simple and straightforward in contemporary US politics, and even less that is not being played, especially by Trump and his MAGA-GOP, for ultimate political and electoral advantage, largely independent of underlying merits or societal benefits. Immigration and the southern border have emerged as Exhibit A for this proposition.
The border has been a successful wedge issue for Republicans. The ongoing conflict between the Texas National Guard and the US Border Patrol appears to be a performative embodiment of the GOP’s goal of making political hay from a resistance to federal authority that some have likened to the skirmishes that led up to the Civil War. The party’s dubious (at best) impeachment proceedings against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas confirm that assessment.
Meanwhile, surprisingly, the Supreme Court weighed in to allow the US government to remove razor wire that impedes the ability of the US (i.e., federal) border patrol to reach immigrants who are drowning. Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who provided the majority vote in the court’s 5-4 ruling, made the unexpected move to go against the far-right wing of the court.
But Texas, led by Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and with the support of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and nearly two dozen other red states, has made noises about ignoring the high court, a la Trump hero Andrew Jackson, who in his day defied the court and mocked its lack of enforcement powers, reportedly commenting, “[Chief Justice] John Marshall has made his decision. Now let him enforce it.” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) ramped up the rhetoric, saying the court’s ruling allows “Biden to continue his illegal effort to allow the foreign invasion of America.”
It has become increasingly obvious that the MAGA-GOP is not at all interested in a border solution, but instead is hell bent on playing events for what they perceive is maximum political and electoral advantage. They seem to have no intention of giving up their favorite political football, even in a deal that gives them nearly everything they’ve ever claimed to have wanted.
If anything, their recent experience with the Dobbs decision and abortion has likely taught the GOP the hazard of finally achieving a long sought-after political goal. After the Supreme Court engineered by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the Federalist Society, and Trump overturned Roe v. Wade, the perennial motivator of religious-right voters rapidly became political poison.
Trump’s blocking of $60 billion in aid to Ukraine — via his putting the kibosh on any border deal to which the House GOP continues to insist it be tied — is a clear political and military gift to Putin, and it is damning that the media isn’t framing it this way just because Trump neglected to spell it out in a social media post.
There are legitimate questions about whether Biden should have offered the GOP such unprecedented concessions on the border. Politically, his flexible negotiating posture is likely to hurt Biden, as the Left will see his willingness to bend so far as a betrayal of their support for him and his concessions will garner him no credit from right-wing media.
Perhaps Biden’s calculation was that such a political price was cheaper than allowing the issue to fester; perhaps genuine concern for the public good has been his chief motivation; perhaps some of both. But there is no such question regarding Trump’s motivations. Trump has made clear his political motivation for telling the Republicans to scuttle the deal: his desire to keep the issue in play for his campaign against Biden.
But why is hardly anyone in the media (other than a very recent David Frum tweet and column) seeing Trump’s move as the two-fer it so obviously is? Why, that is, is most of the coverage barely mentioning Ukraine, much less calling out just how big a favor Trump’s blowing up of the border deal is to Putin?
After all, it was the House GOP that insisted that aid to Ukraine be bound to legislation to “solve” the “crisis” at the southern border — a crisis that suddenly became uncritical at a word from Trump. Presumably, then, Ukraine was to be the hostage held by the MAGA-GOP until Biden and the Democrats caved on the border. The Democrats did cave — and, at Trump’s command, the MAGA-GOP shot the hostage.
With the Senate now taking up Ukraine/Israel aid as a stand-alone, Trump’s unstated position on Ukraine’s border is just as obvious as his stated position on the southern border. Russia systematically interfered in the 2016 election for the benefit of Trump and it’s not hard to imagine Putin putting his thumb on the scale for Trump in 2024. Trump’s blocking of $60 billion in aid to Ukraine — via his putting the kibosh on any border deal to which the House GOP has not stopped insisting it be tied — is a clear political and military gift to Putin, and it is damning that the media isn’t framing it this way just because Trump neglected to spell it out in a social media post.
Even on the left, the Russian aspect of this deal is elided. The Young Turks, a self-described progressive and left-leaning news outlet, described the deal as benefiting Biden because “he’s a war monger” or because he wants more money to go to the military contractors that donate to him, rather than discussing the vital necessity of helping Ukraine defend its sovereignty.
Ukraine can survive a one- or two-month gap in funding but relies on the US for both sophisticated military equipment — including planes and tanks and anti-missile defenses — and basics like artillery shells (during its counteroffensive in 2023, Ukraine was firing around 6,000 artillery shells a day).
While the United States and Ukraine hope other allies will pick up the slack as US aid ends, Putin ally (as well as Fox News darling), Hungarian President Viktor Orban, did his level best to prevent that from happening. He began blocking EU aid in mid December and maintained his hold until the first of this month, when he was read the riot act and $54 billion was cleared. However, without additional US aid, this won’t be enough to sustain Ukraine’s defense.
While US media may understandably, in the punishing wake of “Russiagate,” be reluctant to address Russia’s worldwide political influence and its interference in US politics, that doesn’t mean it’s not happening. Refusing to even acknowledge the boon to Putin in Trump’s disruption of the border deal, and its concomitant nixing of $60 billion in aid to Ukraine, is a profound disservice to the US electorate.
Doug Ecks is a lawyer and writer. He holds a JD from the University of California, Hastings and a BA in philosophy from California State University, Long Beach, Phi Beta Kappa. He also writes and performs comedy as Doug X.