Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida addresses Congress . . .

Prof. Heather Cox Richardson

Letters from an American

When Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida addressed a joint meeting of Congress today, he tried to remind lawmakers of who Americans are.

“The U.S. shaped the international order in the postwar world through economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power,” he reminded them. “It championed freedom and democracy. It encouraged the stability and prosperity of nations, including Japan. And, when necessary, it made noble sacrifices to fulfill its commitment to a better world.”

He explained the bigger picture.

“The United States policy was based on the premise that humanity does not want to live oppressed by an authoritarian state. A state where you are tracked and surveilled and denied from expressing what is in your heart and on your mind,” he said. “You believed that freedom is the oxygen of humanity.” 

Keenly aware that MAGA Republicans have rejected the nation’s role in protecting freedom and democracy and are standing between Ukraine and U.S. aid, Kishida said:

“The world needs the United States to continue playing this pivotal role in the affairs of nations.

Freedom and democracy are currently under threat around the globe,” he said. “Climate change has caused natural disasters, poverty, and displacement on a global scale. In the COVID-19 pandemic, all humanity suffered. Rapid advances in AI technology have resulted in a battle over the soul of AI that is raging between its promise and its perils. The balance of economic power is shifting. The Global South plays a greater role in responding to challenges and opportunities and calls for a larger voice . . . China’s current external stance and military actions present an unprecedented and the greatest strategic challenge, not only to the peace and security of Japan but to the peace and stability of the international community at large.”

In the midst of all this dramatic change, Kishida said, “the leadership of the United States is indispensable. Without U.S. support, how long before the hopes of Ukraine would collapse under the onslaught from Moscow?” he asked.

“Without the presence of the United States, how long before the Indo-Pacific would face even harsher realities?”

He noted that Japan has pledged $12 billion to Ukraine and “will continue to stand with” the vulnerable country. In this fraught hour, he said,

“[t]he democratic nations of the world must have all hands on deck. I am here to say that Japan is already standing shoulder to shoulder with the United States. You are not alone. We are with you.”

As Kishida gently warned lawmakers that the United States is abdicating its role in world affairs by its apparent abandonment of Ukraine, Russian forces last night destroyed the largest power plant in the Kyiv region. U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Bridget A. Brink reported that “Russia last night launched more than 40 drones and 40 missiles into Ukraine . . . The situation in Ukraine is dire; there is not a moment to lose,” she wrote. 

House speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) surely knows the situation in Ukraine is dire; he has held up U.S. aid for six months. The Senate passed a national security supplemental bill that would provide aid to Ukraine back in February, but while Johnson has said he would bring the supplemental bill to the House floor, where it will certainly pass, somehow it has never been the right time.

American refusal to support Ukraine is causing global concern. When British foreign secretary David Cameron came to the U.S. this week, he not only met with lawmakers and State Department officials, but also traveled to Florida to meet with former president Trump at Mar-a-Lago in hopes of persuading him to support additional U.S. military aid to Ukraine. That Johnson refused to meet with Cameron when he returned to Washington, D.C., the next day suggests that Cameron’s effort achieved little. 

Johnson is facing pressure from extremists in his conference like Georgia representative Marjorie Taylor Greene who oppose aid to Ukraine and who are threatening to challenge his speakership if he brings the bill to the floor of the House. Those extremists fired another shot across his bow today when they blocked a law to extend a section of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act after Trump urged them to kill it. 

When the measure failed, security expert and former Trump administration official Miles Taylor wrote: “The House’s failure to renew FISA is *BAD.* If these powers lapse, it would be like blind-folding U.S. spies and tying their hands behind their backs as they try to protect Americans from China, Russia, terror groups & beyond. Get it together, Congress.”

To enable Johnson to ignore the extremists if it means getting aid to Ukraine, Democrats have thrown Johnson a lifeline, if only he will use it. House minority leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) suggested today that Democrats would vote against a challenge to Johnson’s speakership, keeping him in place. Jeffries said: “If the speaker were to do the right thing and allow the House to work its will with an up or down vote on the national security bill, then I believe there are a reasonable number of Democrats [who] would not want to see the speaker fall as a result of doing the right thing.” 

But instead of actually doing the people’s business and passing a measure the White House, Pentagon, and a majority of Congress think is vital to our national security, MAGA Republicans appear to be consumed by the effort to get Trump back into the presidency. 

Today the House Rules Committee got a new chair as Michael Burgess (R-TX) took the reins from Tom Cole (R-OK). Burgess will oversee his first hearing on Monday as the committee meets to examine six bills that appear to be designed to feed the Republicans’ culture wars by denying the secretary of energy’s power to establish new energy conservation standards. Those bills are the “Hands Off Our Home Appliances Act,” the “Liberty in Laundry Act,” the “Clothes Dryers Reliability Act,” the “Refrigerator Freedom Act,” the “Affordable Air Conditioning Act,” and the “Stop Unaffordable Dishwasher Standards Act.” 

Johnson is also in on the act. He is scheduled to visit Mar-a-Lago tomorrow to promote a bill to prevent noncitizens from voting. This is purely political theater: it is already illegal for noncitizens to vote in federal elections. Trump seems eager to push the idea of “election integrity” to bolster his lie. The 2020 election was stolen and the 2024 election will be too. Evidently, he is trying to chum up distrust of American elections.

Under its new co-chairs, Trump’s daughter-in-law Lara Trump and Trump loyalist Michael Whatley, the Republican National Committee last week sent out a robocall to voters’ phones saying that Democrats committed “massive fraud” in the 2020 presidential election and that “If Democrats have their way, your vote could be canceled out by someone who isn’t even an American citizen.” This is a straight-up lie, of course—Trump and his loyalists have never produced any evidence for their accusations and lost more than 60 court cases over it—but Trump clearly intends to make it a centerpiece of his campaign. 

While Republicans are pushing the Big Lie, in The Bulwark today, conservative commentator Mona Charen noted that Ukraine president Volodomyr Zelensky this week warned the U.S. that Ukraine will lose the war against Russia’s aggression if it does not get U.S. aid. 

“Putin seems to have pulled off the most successful foreign influence operation in American history,” Charen wrote. “If Trump were being blackmailed by Putin it’s hard to imagine how he would behave any differently. And though it started with Trump, it has not ended there. Putin now wields more power over the [Republicans] than anyone other than Trump…. [T]hey mouth Russian disinformation without shame. Putin,” she said, “must be pinching himself.”