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Biden's plan to send more aid to Ukraine is criticized by voters in Wisconsin

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Congress is debating President Joe Biden's plan to send as much as $24 billion in additional military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine for its fight against Russia. But the plan is proving controversial among both liberal and conservative voters in the battleground state of Wisconsin. WUWM's Chuck Quirmbach reports.

CHUCK QUIRMBACH, BYLINE: About 50 Republicans gathered in a park shelter for a recent Constitution Day picnic in the Milwaukee suburb of Muskego. They stood and sang as a recording of the national anthem was played.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) And the rocket's red glare...

QUIRMBACH: To attendees like Norm Reynolds, patriotism these days includes opposition to sending more aid to Ukraine. He's not alone. Some recent polls indicate a growing number of Republicans want to halt the assistance. Reynolds says the tens of billions of dollars already sent has underfunded some needs here.

NORM REYNOLDS: We have veterans to take care of. Being one of these America Firsters, not like in the '20s, but yes, we've got to take care of our home first.

QUIRMBACH: It's a growing position among Republicans, partly fed by conservative talk media to say they're not isolationist, they just want any spending to happen here in the U.S. Reynolds says he hasn't settled on a presidential candidate for 2024 yet. He'd like to hear more Republican contenders talk about their plans for Ukraine.

At a farmers market in another Milwaukee suburb, Brookfield, Linda Kaul describes herself as a political independent, still doing her homework, as she puts it, on a presidential candidate for next year. But Kaul says she has decided it's time for the United States to slow aid to Ukraine and balance the U.S. budget.

LINDA KAUL: They make me balance my budget every time they take a cut. Taxes go up. I have to pay attention to how I spend, and we are definitely in debt.

QUIRMBACH: But Vietnam veteran Shannon Frakes says he backs more military aid to Ukraine.

SHANNON FRAKES: If we don't stop Russia now, they're going to go through all of Europe. My viewpoint, we don't have a choice.

QUIRMBACH: Frakes has voted for Donald Trump in the past, but this election calls himself an independent still searching for a candidate. It would seem Frakes would be the kind of Wisconsinite Trump would need next year if the former president is the GOP nominee. He only lost the state three years ago by about 20,000 votes. Yet Trump's relationship with Ukraine is complicated. He has said he'd support more aid if the Biden administration releases more information about Hunter Biden's actions in Ukraine. House Republicans have already opened an impeachment inquiry into the president related to his son's business dealings there. But so far, the investigations have not uncovered any evidence of wrongdoing by the president. Meanwhile, President Biden's ongoing support for Ukraine may cost him votes in Wisconsin, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Singing) All those who dwell in the river, ocean, sea...

QUIRMBACH: A recent ceremony at Milwaukee's lakefront greeted the arrival of The Golden Rule, a restored touring sailboat iconic to the peace movement. Afterwards, Vietnam vet Mark Foreman said he voted for Biden in 2020 but isn't sure he will next year. Foreman says he wants peace talks in Ukraine.

MARK FOREMAN: I don't have to vote for someone, but I will work hard to support those who I believe have their values straight.

QUIRMBACH: National polls show a big majority of Democrats still support President Biden's policies toward Ukraine. But in some states, the president's margin for political error may be slim.

For NPR News, I'm Chuck Quirmbach in Milwaukee.

(SOUNDBITE OF TITO CASPIAN'S "FLUME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Chuck Quirmbach is a Milwaukee-based reporter who covers developments and issues in Southeastern Wisconsin that are of statewide interest. He has numerous years of experience covering state government, elections, the environment, energy, racial diversity issues, clergy abuse claims and major baseball stadium doings. He enjoys covering all topics.
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