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Fact-checking Sen. Brian Schatz vs. Sen. Josh Hawley on aid to Ukraine

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., and Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii. (AP) Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., and Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii. (AP)

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., and Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii. (AP)

Jon Greenberg
By Jon Greenberg April 12, 2022

If Your Time is short

  • Sen. Josh Hawley voted against a sweeping $1.5 trillion spending bill that included billions for Ukraine, but the Ukraine money wasn’t the reason for his vote.

  • Hawley opposed Ukraine’s bid to join NATO, but he backed sending it weapons.

  • The White House delayed two arms shipments to Ukraine, but sent lethal aid before and afterward. The Biden administration also cleared the way for NATO partners to send American Stinger missiles to Ukraine.

  • American energy production rose through 2021 and had no discernable impact on Russia’s energy revenues.

Sending military aid to help Ukraine repulse the Russian attack enjoys broad support among both parties, but lawmakers from each camp find ways to accuse each other of failing to do enough, or failing to do enough at the right time.

Ukraine was the backdrop for a sharp exchange April 7 between Hawaii Democrat Sen. Brian Schatz and Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley. In an otherwise noncontroversial move, the White House had nominated Christopher Lowman to be an assistant Secretary of Defense. Hawley used his senatorial prerogative to put the nomination on hold.

Schatz accused Hawley of undercutting America’s ability to help Ukraine.

Hawley said that if Ukraine had a military aid problem, it lay with the Biden administration’s wavering support.


That triggered a scathing rebuttal from Schatz that went back to Hawley’s vote in President Donald Trump’s first impeachment trial for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. During a 2019 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Trump pivoted from the delivery of Javelin anti-tank missiles to asking Ukraine to help investigate, among other things, Joe Biden and his family.

Hawley "voted to exonerate President Trump for this, and so spare me the new solidarity with the Ukrainians, and with the free world, because this man's record is exactly the opposite," Schatz said.

Hawley and Schatz traded charges, and we checked the accuracy of their claims.

Hawley targets Biden

"When Joe Biden came to office, the people of Ukraine asked for military assistance. Did he give it to them? No. He denied them military assistance. He denied them lethal aid."

This is misleading; the Biden administration did send military aid to Ukraine.

Hawley’s office pointed to moments in June and December last year when the Biden White House delayed new shipments of arms and equipment. Both decisions were linked to advancing a diplomatic solution to Russia’s military build-up near Ukraine’s border.

Those delays aside, in March 2021, the White House approved $125 million in military aid, including armed patrol boats, and in August 2021, it cleared another $60 million for a shipment that included Javelin anti-tank missiles and machine guns. In December 2021, it authorized $200 million for more Javelins, rocket launchers to penetrate bunkers, grenade launchers, ammunition and more. Plus, the administration cleared the way for NATO members to transfer Stinger surface-to-air missiles directly to Ukraine.

Elias Yousif, an analyst at the Stimson Center, a defense policy think tank, said a delay tied to a diplomatic foray is not the same as denying aid entirely.

"The statement ignores substantial amounts of military aid the Biden Administration provided before and after those decisions," Yousif said.

In March 2022, the White House provided an additional $800 million in military aid.

"When (Biden) came to office, he greenlighted Vladimir Putin's pipeline. He turned their pipelines on; he turned our pipelines off. What did he do with American energy production? He throttled it down. He turned it off. That had the desired effect: Russian energy production up. Russian revenues up."

This is a mixed bag of half truths and inaccuracies.

The Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany was virtually completed by the time Biden took office, and the U.S. had no direct say over when it would come on line. Biden’s policy was to speak against it, but not interfere with the project in order to manage relations with both Germany and Russia. Germany relied on Russia for 40% of its natural gas, and Russia was keen for the revenues. The White House waived sanctions on the Russian company building the pipeline, and opposed a Senate effort backed by most Republicans and some Democrats to reimpose them.

As for American energy production, Biden blocked the Keystone XL pipeline, but that didn’t "turn off" production. Crude oil trended up in 2021, growing by 3.5% between March and December 2021. So did natural gas, rising by nearly 6% in the same period.

After the COVID-19 economic shutdown in 2020, Russian revenues recovered, but that was a result of rising demand, independent of American policies. The global price of oil and longer term contracts for natural gas shape Russian energy revenues, not American production. 

Schatz targets Hawley

"This comes from a guy who before the Russian invasion suggested that maybe it would be wise for Zelenskyy to make a few concessions about Ukraine and their willingness to join NATO."

This is partly accurate but leaves out Hawley’s support for arming Ukraine

Hawley sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken Feb. 1, 2022, saying the U.S. should not back Ukraine’s bid to join NATO because it would draw America into a direct fight with Russia. Hawley repeated that point in a Fox News op-ed, adding that the U.S. "has an interest in Ukraine’s independence and territorial integrity." And he backed sending arms to Ukraine.

"We should provide Ukraine with what lethal and other aid it needs to defend itself and use sanctions and other non-military tools to support its defense," Hawley wrote Feb. 7

"This comes from a guy who just about a month ago voted against Ukraine aid."

This is misleading.

Hawley joined 30 Republican senators in voting against a $1.5 trillion omnibus spending bill. The measure included $13.6 billion in aid for Ukraine. But Hawley and other Republicans railed against the scale of the overall spending, not the money for Ukraine.

It’s a political tradition to pick out one element in a sprawling package and fault someone for their vote, whether for or against. In reality, it is difficult to link a position on such a bill to a single piece of it.

Hawley said "that until the Secretary of Defense quits his job, I'm going to block all of his (Biden’s) nominees."

This is accurate.

In September, Hawley told CNN he would put a hold on any civilian nominee to a Defense or State Department post until the departments’ leaders resigned over the chaotic U.S. exit from Afghanistan. 

Hawley has stuck to his vow. In February, as the number of Russian troops approached the 150,000 mark, he blocked the confirmation of a nominee to head the Pentagon’s international security team, this despite her stated commitment to forcibly fighting Russia’s aggressive moves against its neighbors.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., voiced frustration with Hawley’s stance.

"He’s complaining about the problems we have in Russia and Ukraine and he’s making it worse because he’s not willing to allow those nominees who can help with that problem to go forward," Shaheen said Feb. 10.

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Our Sources

C-SPAN, Brian Schatz and Josh Hawley Senate floor exchange, April 7, 2022

Axios, Hawley calls on Biden to drop support for Ukraine membership in NATO, Feb. 2, 2022

Congressional Research Service, U.S. Security Assistance to Ukraine, Feb. 9, 2022

Congressional Research Service, U.S. Security Assistance to Ukraine, March 28, 2022

Stimson Center, U.S. Military Assistance to Ukraine, Jan. 26, 2022

White House, $60 million aid to Ukraine, Aug. 27, 2021

AP, US commits to $60 million in aid to Ukraine before WH visit, Aug. 31, 2021

Defense News, US announces $125 million in military aid for Ukraine, March 1, 2021

Josh Hawley, Letter to Sec. of State Antony Blinken, Feb. 1, 2022

Fox News, Russia-Ukraine crisis – China is America's biggest enemy, not Moscow, Feb. 7, 2022

CNN, Hawley says he'll hold up State and Defense Department nominees unless Blinken and Austin resign, Sept. 14, 2021

Politico, He's making it worse': Frustrations with Hawley's Pentagon nominee blockade boil over, Feb. 10, 2022

Washington Post, More than two dozen Senate Republicans demand Biden do more for Ukraine after voting against $13.6 billion for Ukraine, March 17, 2022

Politico, White House freezes Ukraine military package that includes lethal weapons,  June 18, 2021

Washington Post, Amid internal disputes over Russia policy, Biden has chosen a mix of confrontation and cooperation, June 15, 2021 

NBC News, Despite appeals from Ukraine, Biden admin holds back additional military aid to Kyiv amid diplomatic push, Dec. 10, 2021

Reuters, U.S. waives sanctions on Nord Stream 2 as Biden seeks to mend Europe ties, May 19, 2021

NBC News, Biden's push against sanctions on Russia’s pipeline puts Democrats in a bind, Dec. 3, 2021

USNI, Report to Congress on U.S. Security Assistance to Ukraine, Feb. 10, 2022

U.S. Energy Information Administration, Petroleum and other liquids, March 31, 2022

U.S. Energy Information Administration, Natural gas, March 31, 2022

U.S. Energy Information Administration, Europe is a key destination for Russia’s energy exports, March 14, 2022

BBC, Nord Stream 2: Biden waives US sanctions on Russian pipeline, May 20, 2021

PolitiFact, Kayleigh McEnany spins comparison of Trump, Biden on Russian gas pipeline, Feb. 9, 2022

Statista, Oil and gas revenue to the federal budget in Russia from 2006 to 2021, 2022

Roll Call, Senate clears $1.5 trillion omnibus spending bill, March 10, 2022

PolitiFact, Ask PolitiFact: Why are gas prices going up?, March 9, 2022

White House, Fact Sheet on U.S. Security Assistance for Ukraine, March 16, 2022

Congressional Record, Senate proceedings, Feb. 10, 2022

RAND, U.S. Military Aid to Ukraine: A Silver Bullet?, Jan. 21, 2022

Email exchange, Elias Yousif, research analyst, Stimson Center, April 11, 2022

Email exchange, press office staff, National Security Council, White House, April 11, 2022

Email exchange, press staff, Office of Sen. Josh Hawley, April 11, 2022

Email exchange, press staff, Office of Sen. Brian Schatz, April 11, 2022


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