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Ahead of Reagan Library presidential debate, conservative group encourages support for Ukraine

Republican presidential candidates, Vivek Ramaswamy, left, and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley participate in the first debate of the GOP primary season hosted by FOX News at the Fiserv Forum on Aug. 23, 2023, in Milwaukee.    (Win McNamee/Getty Images North America/TNS)
By Kaitlyn Schallhorn The Orange County Register

When Republican presidential candidates descend on Southern California next week for a debate and a state party convention, a new conservative group wants to ensure one specific topic is still top of mind: support for Ukraine.

With ads running on Fox News leading up to and during the second debate — and a mobile billboard encouraging support for Ukraine rolling around Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s Bakersfield office — the new “Republicans for Ukraine” coalition wants to give California voters “permission” to advocate for continued U.S. aid for the Eastern European nation amid Russia’s invasion, said spokesperson Gunner Ramer.

“What our group hopes to see from the debate (from candidates) when asked,” said Ramer, “is a no-nonsense stance on supporting Ukraine, that it is in the vital interest of America to make in investment in supporting Ukraine and standing up to an authoritarian like Vladimir Putin.”

Support for American involvement during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a “traditional, conservative value” that embodies the “Ronald Reagan type of Republican Party,” he said, invoking the namesake of the presidential library where the Sept. 27 debate will be held.

As the first debate showed last month, Republicans aren’t all in agreement on how much aid the U.S. should continue to provide Ukraine amid Russia’s invasion. In one particularly tense exchange, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy clashed over the issue; Ramaswamy said he would not support Ukraine because that would push Russia and China closer while Haley accused him of having no foreign policy experience.

But in Orange County, both GOP members of the congressional delegation back Ukrainian aid — and both scored “A’s” on a report card released by Republicans for Ukraine on Monday, Sept. 18.

House Republicans were scored based on criteria that included public comments about Russia’s invasion and votes in Congress that would either add or strip aid. While Reps. Michelle Steel and Young Kim got top marks, other California Reps. Jay Obernolte and Doug LaMalfa received a “D” and “F,” respectively.

“Supporting the innocent Ukrainians who are being brutalized by President Vladimir Putin’s armies is the right thing to do,” said Steel, noting the invasion has been closely monitored by China. “The (Chinese Communist Party), like Putin, is intent on snuffing out democracy and expanding its control. By supporting Ukraine in its fight to defend itself, we keep Americans safe by deterring future aggression by bad actors like the CCP.”

Kim says America is keeping its end of the bargain known as the Budapest Memorandum in 1994, when the U.S., the United Kingdom and Russia agreed to ensure Ukraine’s security in exchange for it denuclearizing. And amid continued support, she wants to ensure U.S. aid is being used as intended.

“We need to make sure they (Ukraine) don’t fall into the hands of the Russians because, in the long term, that will be more detrimental to the U.S.,” said Kim.

The second presidential debate will be held Sept. 27 from 6 p.m.-8 p.m. Several presidential candidates, including former President Donald Trump – who has said he doesn’t plan to participate in the primary debates – and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, will then head to Anaheim for the California Republican Party’s fall convention in Anaheim from Sept. 29-Oct. 1.