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With the House back in session, an agenda item is what to do about aid for Ukraine

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

With Congress back in session, the House is expected to take up an issue held up for months now - aid for Ukraine. New York Congressman Tom Suozzi is a Democrat who, along with a bipartisan group of lawmakers, has spent the last week in Ukraine. And he joins me now to tell us about what he saw and his hopes of securing further Ukraine funding. Good morning, and thanks for being on the program.

TOM SUOZZI: Leila, thanks so much for having me on.

FADEL: So what did you see when you were in Ukraine?

SUOZZI: You know, it was so, so much - just incredible devastation, a sense of anxiety by the Ukrainian people as well as their neighbors in Poland and Moldova that, if the U.S. does not show up on the scene in the month of April, that they're in trouble, bigger trouble than they've been before, because they're running out of ammunition. The attacks by Russia and Vladimir Putin are intensifying. They're taking out more of their energy systems. They're running out of anti-aircraft weapons. They need America, and they need us now.

FADEL: So it sounds like, in your view, you feel this U.S. funding for Ukraine is urgent.

SUOZZI: It's absolutely urgent. It's a desperate situation. You know, 100,000 people have been killed in Ukraine, soldiers and civilians. Ten million people have been displaced from their home - 10 million people. Twenty thousand children have been confirmed kidnapped by Russia. But they think it's more like 50,000 people. Ninety-seven percent of the Russian targets on Ukraine are civilian. Three percent are military. And it's just everywhere we went, whether we were meeting with the the president of Ukraine or the president of Moldova or the foreign minister of Poland or the U.S. ambassadors in Poland and Ukraine and Moldova or the victims that we met or the - it's just a desperate situation.

FADEL: Now, we heard Ukraine's president say yesterday that if it doesn't get U.S. additional funding, it would lose the war against Russia. What does a Ukrainian loss mean for the U.S.?

SUOZZI: It would be a strategic and financial disaster for us. You know, of course, it's a moral disaster. And when America would be disgraced in history for not showing up after having committed to do so. And it'll cost us more money as we defend our NATO partners because if you look at the topographical map, you know, they're going to Moldova. They're going to Poland. Putin, I'm talking about, will go to these other places, just like Hitler during World War II. He won't stop. He'll keep going. And the Russian disinformation campaign - I just look at my social media and the responses I've gotten to my social media. I see so many Russian bots and so much disinformation being sent in response. I can - it's - you can only imagine what it's like in Ukraine itself, as well as in our country as well. And some of the members of Congress - you know, Marjorie Taylor Greene and the like - are using Russian talk points in the things that they're saying in trying to block this aid.

FADEL: Now, you mentioned Marjorie Taylor Greene, and she and some other Trump-aligned members of the Republican Party are against House Speaker Mike Johnson planning to bring forward his own aid package. With his job possibly on the line from his own allies, is there incentive for Republicans to work with Democrats right now on this issue?

SUOZZI: I believe - you know, we can't group all the Republicans together. There are a lot of Republicans that want to support Ukraine and do what was the right thing morally, financially, strategically. It's just some of these extremists, these nuts that - these jokers that are trying to block this aid. It doesn't make any sense from any perspective whatsoever. And we have got to work together. And I've said clearly, if they try to kick Speaker Johnson out for doing his job by bringing this to the floor where there is a large majority of support, over 300 members of Congress easily that would support this, I'll vote to keep him as speaker just as a sign of good faith.

FADEL: Would others do the same as you? I mean, are Democrats willing to shield him?

SUOZZI: I think some are on this issue. I'm willing to do it. You know, if they try to knock him out for doing the budget, I said I would support him to stay. I mean, I don't support his issues. I don't agree with him on so many different things. But this - we cannot let this group of radical extremists that don't know what they're talking about, have no sense of history have control of our government. And we have to say the emperor has no clothes here.

FADEL: Right. And just to be clear, Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene has threatened to call for a vote to oust Johnson. And that's what you're talking about when you say shielding him. Now, I do want to quickly ask, some voters do say, look - we want the government to stop focusing on wars abroad and spend money at home on immigration and schools, infrastructure. What do you say to them?

SUOZZI: We have to do both. We have to recognize that this is - this will cost us much more in the long run if Putin gets his way. It will cost us much more financially, morally and strategically. And there are other places that he will go. It makes no sense not to protect Ukraine. We have to stop Putin. China is watching. We can't give Putin access to this grain and the Black Sea. There's so many reasons we need to support Ukraine.

FADEL: Congressman Tom Suozzi is a Democratic representative from New York. Thank you.

SUOZZI: Thank you so much, Leila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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