Sen. Debbie Stabenow calls out Trump’s desire for revenge against Ukraine

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 31: U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) speaks to members of the press after a weekly Democratic policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol on May 31, 2023 in Washington, DC. Senate Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said on Wednesday that senators should be prepared to vote on it quickly if the Biden-McCarthy debt ceiling bill passed by the House later today. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

By Bonnie Fuller

February 22, 2024

The Michigan Senator said Trump wants payback—and has already been pressuring weak Republicans in Congress to help him get it.

MICHIGAN—US Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan) said she knows why Republican Speaker of the House Mike Johnson is refusing to allow a vote on a $95.3-billion foreign aid package, which includes military assistance for Ukraine.

In her eyes, it all goes back to 2019, when then-President Donald Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to look for a way to damage the reputation of Joe Biden and his family—but was refused. 

“I personally feel that, for Donald Trump, the number one [person] on his retribution list is President Zelenskyy because he wouldn’t find dirt on former Vice President Biden, and we all know what happened in terms of that leading to Trump’s first impeachment,” the senator told The ‘Gander in an exclusive interview. 

Trump is the only US president to have been impeached twice. His first impeachment, on Dec. 18, 2019, was for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The scandal began when then-President Trump illegally blocked payment of a $400 million military aid package approved by Congress, in an effort to coerce Ukrainian President Zelenskyy to investigate Trump’s political rival, Joe Biden. This, combined with further illicit activity to pressure Zelenskyy to promote conspiracy theories benefiting Trump, led the House Intelligence Committee to find that Trump had solicited the interference of a foreign government to benefit his reelection. 

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Since launching his 2024 presidential campaign, Trump has repeatedly announced that if he is reelected in November, “retribution” against his political foes will be his top priority. According to Sen. Stabenow, it goes beyond simple revenge. 

“He wants to get Zelenskyy [in order] to help his buddy Vladimir Putin,” she said, “and it’s outrageous what we’re seeing in terms of our national security vulnerability as a result of that.”

Stabenow is calling out Trump for pressuring Republican members of Congress to turn their backs on Ukraine. She also said that she and 45 fellow Democratic—along with 22 Republican—senators have done what they can to protect America’s national security by voting to pass the $95.3-billion package, which includes military aid for Ukraine and Israel, and humanitarian aid for civilians in Gaza.

“We need to stand up for America and our democratic allies,” Stabenow said.

The bill’s next step is to be passed in the House of Representatives—but House Speaker Mike Johnson has so far refused to allow a vote on it, claiming there is “no rush.” In fact, Johnson recessed the House for two weeks before flying down to Mar-a-Lago, where he posed for and posted a photo of himself with Trump on the social media site X, formerly known as Twitter. 

Trump, the likely Republican nominee for president, has openly pressured Republican members of Congress to not approve the military aid. “WE SHOULD NEVER GIVE MONEY ANYMORE WITHOUT THE HOPE OF A PAYBACK, OR WITHOUT ‘STRINGS’ ATTACHED,” he wrote on his social media platform Truth Social. 

“I think Donald Trump doesn’t, first of all, understand what it means to be president of the United States and to be a world leader in bringing other countries together. He operates like a mob boss,” Stabenow said. 

The US is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which has pledged to help Ukraine defend itself after Russia invaded the former Soviet state in an unprovoked attack in February 2022.

Stabenow, a Democrat who has served as senator for Michigan since 2001, stressed the paramount importance of supporting Ukraine, which is now in dire need of the aid package. Ukraine’s military is running low on ammunition and other supplies while facing a Russian offensive. 

“When we talk about our country and other countries contributing to NATO and our mutual security, this is not about paying for protection like a mob boss, which is the way [Trump] views things,” Stabenow said. “And so it is just upside down in terms of how he views countries coming together to protect democracy, to stand up against tyrants and those like Putin who want to take over and eliminate our democracies.”

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Republicans have held up the aid since last October, when President Biden first asked Congress to provide it.

Stabenow is warning Michiganders that Trump not only won’t stand up to Vladimir Putin but reveres the despotic ruler, who has a long history of jailing or killing off political opponents.

The most recent example was Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was pronounced dead just this week.

Navalny, a humanitarian and founder of the Anti-Corruption Foundation, was 47 years old. Throughout his life of activism, the lawyer—who was of Russian and Ukrainian descent—was the target of many attacks by Putin. Notably in 2020, he was poisoned with Novichok, a lethal nerve agent, that was allegedly placed in his underwear by agents of Russia’s Federal Security Service. 

Navalny received proper medical care for the poisoning only following an international outcry, at which point he was airlifted to Germany for treatment. 

After his recovery, he returned to Russia to lead the fight for democracy there, but was arrested as soon as he arrived in Moscow in January 2021.

Navalny died suddenly and suspiciously on Feb. 16, 2024, while serving a sentence for “extremism” at the IK-3 penal colony, located inside the Arctic Circle and nicknamed “Polar Wolf.”

“He was murdered. There’s no question about it,” Stabenow told The ‘Gander. “And this is an example of what Putin views as the way to operate as the leader of a country. And the scary part is that Donald Trump agrees with him about that—that you should kill your opponents. You should use your power in a way that’s going to crush those who disagree with you. So it’s a very scary example of what I believe will happen if Donald Trump were elected to another term.”

The senator said that the House must pass the Ukraine aid bill in the wake of Navalny’s death, especially as Ukraine is now losing ground in the war against Russia due to a lack of military supplies.

“It’s critical that we get this done. Absolutely critical. There are enough votes from Democrats and Republicans [in the House] if this bill comes to the floor,” she said. “This whole thing drives me absolutely crazy because we know that it’s very important to support Ukraine. They’re in the middle of a fight to protect democracy. 

“If Putin wins [the war], which I think Trump would like him to do—he’d love to have his buddy win—and if he wins, then he’ll move on to another country.” 

Stabenow said she wants Michiganders to understand why it’s in America’s best interest to support democracy in Ukraine, and why refusing to stand up against tyranny will hurt Americans. We can’t just isolate ourselves, she emphasized. 

“Russia doesn’t want America to do well and they are looking for every opportunity to undermine our economic strength and our security strength, and right now they are thrilled at the possibility that they could have a friend and ally in Donald Trump back in the American presidency,” Stabenow said. 

“I can’t believe I’m even saying this as an American,” she continued, “that we would have to worry about an American president that would hand the keys of our own national security and democracy over to a Russian president.”

Author

  • Bonnie Fuller

    Bonnie Fuller is the former CEO & Editor-in-Chief of HollywoodLife.com, and the former Editor-in-Chief of Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, USWeekly and YM. She now writes about politics and reproductive rights.

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