What Would a “Serious” Country do about Ukraine?


In 1963, the story goes, at the end of a state visit to Brazil, France’s President Charles de Gaulle muttered, “This is not a serious country.” Like all the best quotations, this one may be apocryphal, but millions of Brazilians still took offense. Some talked about it 28 years later, when I first visited the country.

Today, would anyone even blink at hearing, “The United States is not a serious country”? As we sink into post-Republican, post-Democratic, post-civilizational decadence, egged on by a hair-sprayed evil-clown Bizarro World shadow president, the saddest spectacle of all is the failure of the 118th Congress to pass the funding that most Americans and most Congressional members want to provide Ukraine, which 70 out of 100 senators voted for, and which just might save the Ukrainians from running out of ammunition and tossing their rifle butts at the Russian tanks. 

That would ensure that the Ukrainians’ astonishing resistance and resilience haven’t been in vain, stop Putin’s war machine from rolling over Poland and the Baltics and who knows how much more of Europe, dissuade Xi Jinping from attacking Taiwan, and show the world that China is a serious country after all.

Instead, Ukraine’s survival is hobbled by three flaky-to-malign actors. First is Speaker Mike Johnson, the MAGA milquetoast, who says he wants to pass Ukraine aid but voted against it before he became speaker and as speaker shirks from bringing it to a vote. Second is Donald Trump, still man-crushing on Vladimir Putin and pulling his party’s strings. Third is the bleach-bottle fury Marjorie Taylor Greene, who threatens pitchforks, boiling oil, and a motion to vacate—depose—if Johnson dares to do the right thing. It’s a ghoulish fable of legislative dysfunction with surpassingly petty roots and alarming global impacts. 

This sorry situation is typically described as one more example of Republican incompetence and chaos, which it is. In case you have blocked out the sorry spectacle: After the Senate passed a $95 billion something-for-everyone package (with $60 billion for Ukraine and smaller shares for military aid to Israel and Taiwan), Johnson blocked it ostensibly because it was “silent on the most pressing issue facing our country,” namely immigration. So the Dems obligingly added billions more for border security and adopted a number of measures they’d long resisted and Rs had long sought. We’re good now, right?

Not when Trump, who doesn’t care about policy, only who gets the credit, is pulling Republicans’ strings. He put out word he wanted the immigration issue to fester until the election—and lo and behold, it’s festering. Johnson then promised to take up support for Ukraine when Congress returned from recess last week. He spoke about finding an alternate approach, such as to make the aid a loan, which would restrict Ukraine’s capacity to borrow desperately needed nonmilitary funds from the IMF.

Or the Speaker proposed to break out Ukraine and Israel aid into separate votes, which would let leftie Dems support only Ukraine and rightwing Rs support only Israel. Or to move the Senate bill forward with a companion package of conservative sweeteners, such as using impounded Russian funds to pay for it (a legally fraught strategy) or lifting limits on liquefied natural gas exports.

Last Thursday Johnson insisted that “we’re going to get this done.” But a week after returning to the Capitol, Johnson has brought nothing forward, though he did huddle with Trump on Friday over a truly dire issue: imaginary illegal voting by illegal immigrants. Congress will recess again next week. Run out the clock long enough and there will be no problem, and no independent Ukraine, to worry about. This is at the very least not a serious political party.

But there’s a Democratic component to this farce as well—and a foretaste of more Democratic division to come. The Ds, together with a few more Rs who care enough about saving Ukraine, containing Putin, and sustaining American leadership in the world to jeopardize their future in the party, could make an end run around Johnson. To bring a bill to the floor, they only need to get 218 signatures—half the seats in the House plus one—on what’s called a discharge petition. 

On February 15, Massachusetts representative Jim McGovern, acting on behalf of House Democratic leadership, introduced  a petition to discharge the Rules Committee from reviewing—i.e. blocking—the aid package and to bring the bill to the floor. Signatures came in an initial torrent, then followed in a trickle. They’re now up to 195—194 Democrats and one Republican, California’s Ken Buck who, weary of the Capitol shitshow, resigned on March 22 and signed the petition on his way out. They need 23 more. 

Nineteen Democrats have not signed the discharge petition. Among them are 14 members of the Progressive Caucus—including its chair, Seattle’s own Pramila Jayapal. (Adam Smith, the Washington delegation’s other Progressive Caucus member, signed the petition.) Many, viewing the devastation and starvation in Gaza, shudder at endorsing a measure that includes more arms for Israel.

Jayapal’s refusal may reflect other motivations as well. Last October she peremptorily released a group letter calling for “a proactive diplomatic push” to end the war in Ukraine, without consulting irate caucus members who’d signed the letter in June but said they disagreed with it now. She also shamefully (and reportedly wrongly) blamed the release on her staff. Jayapal’s office did not respond to calls and email messages seeking comment.

Fourteen more Democratic signatures would not be enough to close the gap and secure a vote. But they could encourage more Republicans to sign on. In February the lobby group Republicans for Ukraine targeted ten who’d strongly supported Ukraine before and seemed likeliest to stick their necks out now. They might be more eager to if doing so would actually turn the tide. Between them, the sympathetic Rs and still-unsigned Ds total 29—six more than the signatures needed.

All this may soon be mute, if Johnson finds the will and the means, or backing from the erratic DJT, to finally get ammunition to Ukraine. But that aid will come six months late, after Ukraine’s position has seriously weakened and Putin’s most cynical expectations of American flakiness have been confirmed.

A “serious country” would not be in this position. 

Eric Scigliano
Eric Scigliano
Eric Scigliano has written on varied environmental, cultural and political subjects for many local and national publications. His books include Puget Sound: Sea Between the Mountains, Love War and Circuses (Seeing the Elephant), Michelangelo’s Mountain, Flotsametrics and the Floating World (with Curtis Ebbesmeyer), The Wild Edge, and, newly published, The Big Thaw: Ancient Carbon and a Race to Save the Planet.


  1. I hope it will be moot (not mute) real soon. What it all leaves me wondering, is why?

    The majority sentiment, I get, and it’s expressed well here.

    The minority who want to prevent the aid, what’s up with that? Is it just a grab bag of side issues? Jayapal’s Palestinians, Trump’s campaign tactic or whatever this is, Republicans’ grandstanding over border policy? Is there much real evidence of a pro-Russia element? Does someone think the world will be a better place because we let Ukraine go?

  2. Pramila Jayapal is to Joe Biden what Marjorie Taylor Greene is to Mike Johnson: a constant threat to actual governance. Did you forget about her blockade of Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan? She wanted more, more, more! As if the Democrats had scores of votes to spare. She tanked BBB, and, while Biden did manage to get the votes to pass the Infrastructure Bill and Senator Maria Cantwell’s Chips Act, we did not get the many goodies contained in the BBB plan.

    Jayapal is nothing but a media (rhymes with ‘bore’), just like MTG. Opposite sides of the same worthless coin. If only a “serious” candidate would run against her, we might have a serious Member of Congress who, like Adam Smith, Susan Del Bene, Derek Kilmer, Rick Larsen, Kim Schrier, and Marie Glusenkamp Perez, actually get things accomplished.

    • Agreed! Sometimes Democrats are their own worst enemies. Pramila clearly doesn’t understand anything about Soviet/Communist/authoritarian threats to American democracy. We in Washington have so many other great congressional reps. Sorry to see Derek leave and hope Hilary Franz takes his place. She brings the climate expertise we need in Congress.

  3. Very apt, applying deGaulle’s description of “serious country”–or not–to our current and sad state of affairs. Thank you for pointing out Jayapal’s contribution to silly? naive? governance with her not joining the other (thus far) 194 Dems on the above-mentioned petition. Here is her Wash DC phone number for comment: 202-225-3106.


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