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WASHINGTON — With Russia waging a brutal war against Ukraine, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted this week to reaffirm “its unequivocal support” of NATO, the defense alliance created more than 70 years ago to counter Russian aggression in Europe.
But a noteworthy bloc of 11 Texas Republicans voted against the nonbinding measure that passed with bipartisan support. Two Texas representatives say their opposition was rooted in a measure calling for a Center for Democratic Resilience.
That institution would be at NATO headquarters in Belgium and would “serve as a resource and a clearinghouse of best practices and cross-fertilisation on democratic benchmarks available to member, partner, and aspirant states,” according to NATO’s website.
U.S. Rep. Kay Granger of Fort Worth said the resolution’s language about such a center was vague and she criticized Democratic leadership for rushing the vote before members could understand it better.
“Some of the things they’re asking us to vote on now seemed to be hurried up so much that there seemed to be very little presentation and very little time to really analyze it and know how important those things are,” she said. “I could’ve made a mistake on that one. It was a call.”
U.S. Rep. Chip Roy of Austin in a statement described the center as a “distraction to NATO’s mission.” He argued the “center will be weaponized against member countries — such as the United States — who enact policies contrary to the leftist orthodoxy that now unfortunately permeates most of Western Europe.”
Roy didn’t elaborate on how he thought the center would be used in such a way. He said in his statement that “it is imperative for the United States to stand side by side with our NATO allies” rather than “passing toothless resolutions.”
“NATO should be focused on military strength — not on empowering international organizations to target the internal activities of sovereign nations under the vague guise of illiberalism or human rights,” he said.
The resolution was a show of moral support and did not include any funding mechanisms or measures that would have sent aid to NATO or Ukraine.
The nine other Texas Republicans voting against the resolution were U.S. Reps. Brian Babin of Woodville, Michael Burgess of Lewisville, John Carter of Round Rock, Michael Cloud of Victoria, Lance Gooden of Terrell, Louie Gohmert of Tyler, Troy Nehls of Richmond, Pete Sessions of Waco and Randy Weber of Friendswood.
None of those nine representatives responded to requests for comment late Wednesday..
NATO, which is an acronym for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, is a defense alliance that came together after World War II among western European countries and the United States to push back against the Soviet Union’s aggression in the eastern part of the continent.
The resolution’s text called for the U.S. government to uphold NATO’s “founding democratic principles” and the establishment of the Center for Democratic Resilience within its headquarters.
Granger is one of the Texas representatives most steeped in foreign policy, by way of her subcommittee assignments on the House Appropriations Committee. She said she and a handful of fellow GOP members debated whether to vote for the resolution despite what they considered vague language.
“We went back and forth about it,” she said. “We were for it and against it.”
She said her decision to oppose the resolution stemmed from not having time to fully vet it.
“In some of these things, they’re very, very serious, and we’re not taking the time … to have it ahead of time, to be able to discuss these things and see the alternatives,” Granger said.
U.S. Rep. Mike Turner is an Ohio Republican who helped conceive of the Center for Democratic Resilience and spoke about it on the House floor Tuesday.
“This center would monitor challenges and threats to democracy, natural rights and the rule of law among member nations,” he said. “Partnering with democracy-promotion organizations, the center will assist member states and aspiring member states to preserve and foster democracy among their ranks.”
For decades, many American conservatives groused about NATO — most notable among them was former President Donald Trump. The goal for each NATO country is to spend 2% of its GDP on its national defense by 2024.
That alliance is having a renaissance in Europe, as the United States and its allies are trying to prevent the Russian invasion from spilling into NATO countries. Most mainstream foreign policy experts credit NATO’s efficacy for containing the Russian aggression to Ukraine.
Republican U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul of Austin is the top House Republican on foreign affairs and voted to support NATO. On Wednesday, he sported a blue-and-gold Ukrainian ribbon on his suit jacket at the Capitol.
He told The Texas Tribune that NATO countries are “stepping up” in ways some countries had lagged before. A frequent conservative critique of NATO is that many European countries fall short of the expected standard that all member countries spend at least 2% of their GDP on defense.
“NATO is more unified than it’s ever been. Germany now is putting in 2% of their GDP. And they are sending weapons and they are training,” he said.
NATO bonds further frayed in recent years, as Trump regularly railed against the alliance. But his criticism did lead to several NATO countries deciding to increase their defense spending.
Everything changed six weeks ago when Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, a country on the Eastern European frontier that long aspired to join the organization. Several NATO countries located near Ukraine, like Poland, are most impacted by the refugee exodus from Ukraine.
At the heart of NATO is an agreement among all 30 countries known as Article 5, which states an attack on one NATO member country is an attack on all NATO allies. The 9/11 attacks on the United States are the single time in the alliance’s existence that Article 5 has been invoked.
Former NATO Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison addressed the vote in an interview with the Tribune on Wednesday.
Hutchison carefully noted she had not read the language in the House resolution but insisted the political establishment is behind NATO.
“I know we have bipartisan support for NATO — I know that,” she told Tribune CEO Evan Smith, pointing to her former colleagues in the U.S. Senate.
“We have that bipartisan support,” she later added. “I’ve seen it.”
U.S. Rep. Colin Allred, a Dallas Democrat who serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, seemed mystified that so many Texans voted against a resolution supporting NATO, noting that the last two Republican presidents prior to Trump — George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush — were NATO boosters.
“I really don’t know what to make of it,” he said. “We’ve seen how important it is, and I find it really hard to understand.”
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