Tempers boiled over during a classified Senate briefing on Ukraine on Tuesday afternoon, when Republican senators insisted on talking about security along the U.S.-Mexico border while Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and military officials tried to keep the discussion focused on the war.
Schumer accused Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) of attempting to hijack the meeting on Ukraine’s defense needs to have an unrelated conversation on border security.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was scheduled to attend the briefing via a secure video conference call but canceled his appearance shortly before the meeting.
The discussion got so heated that, at one point, Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) were shouting questions at the senior Biden administration officials in the room, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Charles Q. Brown Jr.
“I took them on with the microphone in my hand,” Cramer later told reporters after the heated discussion.
“I asked Gen. Brown his best military advice. Is supporting Ukraine and Israel important enough that Democrats could at least consider reluctantly supporting some southern border security? He wanted to talk about Ukraine,” he said.
Cramer said Schumer went “nuts” when he insisted that the general convince Democrats that the war in Ukraine is a vital enough national security interest to justify them making concessions on immigration and asylum reform.
Schumer accused his colleagues of acting disrespectfully toward senior military officials.
“One of them started — was disrespectful — and started screaming at one of the generals and challenging him why he didn’t go to the border,” Schumer said.
And he slammed McConnell for turning the briefing into a partisan food fight over immigration policy instead of a factual analysis of Ukraine’s ability to hold off a Russian invasion without additional U.S. military aid.
“It was immediately hijacked by Leader McConnell. The first question — instead of asking our panelists — he called on Lankford to give a five-minute talk about the negotiations on the border, and that wasn’t the purpose of the meeting at all,” Schumer fumed. “And then when I brought up the idea that they could do an amendment and have the ability to get something done on [the] border, [Republican colleagues] got stuck.”
Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) said GOP senators were frustrated that the briefing was not more focused on the national security threat posed by the surge of migrants across the southern border.
“Of course we all want more information on border security, and that wasn’t a focus of the briefing. So that was a source of frustration for many who regard border security as a national security issue,” he said.
At one point, independent Sen. Angus King (Maine), who caucuses with Democrats, tried to establish some peace in the room by arguing that GOP colleagues were justified in wanting to talk about border security.
“Sen. King said, ‘Hey, this may not have been the time that I want to discuss this, but it’s an important topic. The president put it on the agenda with the supplemental having border funding. This is the only time we’re all together, so it’s totally legitimate for us to have that discussion,” said a GOP senator familiar with the dialogue behind closed doors.