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D.C. Memo: Russia invades Ukraine, 1st Dist. hopefuls announce intentions to run

Russia has launched a wide-ranging attack on Ukraine, hitting the country from land, air and sea.

Smoke rises as a fire burns on the premises of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry's unit, in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Thursday.
Smoke rises as a fire burns on the premises of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry's unit, in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Thursday.
REUTERS TV/via REUTERS

Hello and welcome back to the D.C. Memo. No fun intro today. I, like many of you, have been switching back and forth between CNN and the BBC as the Russian invasion of Ukraine rages on. Although MinnPost is not an international outlet, in this edition of the Memo I’ll go over some of the things we know and the responses from many of our state’s congressional representatives. Please remember that the situation is unfolding quickly, and depending on when you read this things may have changed. Also in this week’s Memo: A frenzy in the First District and a program to protect the pups.

Minnesota lawmakers respond to crisis in Ukraine

Russia has launched a wide-ranging attack on Ukraine, hitting the country from land, air and sea. Russian forces have hit cities and bases with airstrikes or shelling as residents scramble into trains and cars to flee conflict zones. An air raid warning has been issued in Ukraine’s capital city Kyiv by the city’s government, and all residents have been asked to seek underground shelters. 

The invasion began shortly after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, speaking in Russian, made a last-minute appeal to Russian people, saying that Ukraine posed no threat to their country and that any war between them would be a “disaster.”

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“I know that they (the Russian state) won’t show my address on Russian TV,” Zelenskyy said. “But Russian people have to see it. They need to know the truth, and the truth is that it is time to stop now, before it is too late.”

President Joe Biden addressed the nation — and the world — Thursday afternoon in a speech in which he called Vladimir Putin the “aggressor.”

“Putin chose this war. And now he and his country will bear the consequences,” Biden said. Biden also announced that the U.S. will impose economic sanctions on Russia by freezing assets in four of Russia’s largest financial institutions. The U.S. and its Western allies are also imposing new export controls, which Biden said will block over half of Russia’s high-tech exports and impede some of Moscow’s military and technological capabilities.

“I support sanctions that are targeted at Putin, his oligarchs, and the Russian military, especially targeted at their offshore assets. But will continue to oppose broad-based sanctions that would amount to collective punishment of a Russian population that did not choose this,” Fifth District Rep. Ilhan Omar (D) said in a statement.

She also emphasized directing unity and resources towards people in Ukraine. “This includes making allowances for humanitarian organizations to operate in sanctioned territory, and it also includes preparing to welcome the likely influx of refugees fleeing the conflict,” Omar said.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called for outside nations to employ “devastating sanctions” on Russia and “fully isolate Russia by all means, in all formats.” He made an additional plea for weapons, equipment and financial and humanitarian assistance for Ukraine.

Zelenskyy has been releasing statements and holding broadcasted speeches throughout the past few days, and has said that “we will give weapons to anyone who wants to defend the country. Be ready to support Ukraine in the squares of our cities.”

Just after midnight Thursday, Third District Rep. Dean Phillips (D) released a statement on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

“You’re either for Democracy or for authoritarianism,” Phillips said. “Here and abroad. Shame on anyone who puts politics above principle right now. Let’s be America. America leads. We do not resign. We do not ignore. Democracies, no matter nascent nor mature, must protect one another as a matter of principle. Let’s get together on this.”

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Second District Rep. Angie Craig (D) released a statement saying that her heart is with the Ukrainian people as “we watch the news of war in Europe unfold.” 

“I condemn, in the strongest possible terms, this unlawful military action by Russia, which will doubtlessly lead to profound human loss and suffering,” she said.

Fourth District Rep. and chair of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Betty McCollum (D) said in a statement this morning that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is “an act of unprovoked military aggression that must be condemned.”

“The Biden administration, with the bipartisan support of Congress and our NATO and European allies, will respond in a united and decisive manner. The strongest possible sanctions must be imposed on Russian financial institutions, oligarchs, and political leaders by the U.S. and the international community,” McCollum said.

Seventh District Rep. Michelle Fischbach (R) took a slightly different stance.

“Russia’s violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty is unjust and unacceptable,” Fischbach said in a statement this afternoon. “We are dealing with a culmination of the (Biden) administration’s failed economic policy, energy policy and foreign policy. It is past time for the United States to reassert its leadership. America and the rest of the free world must stand together in face of this aggression.” 

Is Fischbach blaming Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on President Biden? One certainly could interpret it that way.

Sixth District Rep. Tom Emmer (R) said the invasion of Ukraine “is a result of weak leadership on the world stage.”

On Tuesday a group of lawmakers including Omar sent a letter to President Biden to remind him that he must seek authorization from Congress before sending in troops or launching military attacks. The bipartisan group of 43 lawmakers acknowledged that Biden previously said he would not send troops into Ukraine but noted the decision could change.

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“If the ongoing situation compels you to introduce the brave men and women of our military into Ukraine, their lives would inherently be put at risk if Russia chooses to invade. Therefore, we ask that your decisions comport with the Constitution and our nation’s laws by consulting with Congress to receive authorization before any such development,” the lawmakers said in the letter. 

First District Frenzy

As we reported this week, the death of First District Rep. Jim Hagedorn has left an open district for the taking. Although we are in an election year, there will still be a special election held in August to replace Hagedorn. Whoever wins that election will become the incumbent for the November midterm elections, meaning that they will still have to compete to keep their seat even after having just won it.

A few hopefuls have announced their campaigns in the seat so far. 

According to the Rochester Post Bulletin, Richard DeVoe, a Red Wing independent bookseller, will run in the Democratic primary. DeVoe owns Fair Trade Books in Red Wing and said that by running in the special election, he hopes to show what it means to be a “better Democrat.” 

Richard Painter, a former Bush White House ethics lawyer, announced on Twitter that he will also be running in the Democratic primary. Painter ran for a DFL U.S. Senate nomination in 2018.

Protecting the pups

In somewhat lighter news, a group of lawmakers sent a bipartisan letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee leadership, urging them to include $3 million in their proposed Fiscal Year 2022 budget to support victims of domestic violence and their pets. 

The Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act created the Department of Justice’s Emergency and Transitional Pet Shelter and Housing Assistance grant program, which “helps provide funding for facilities that harbor survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, and dating violence, as well as their pets.”

“Abusers often threaten or inflict violence on pets as a way to intimidate or exert control over their partners and prevent them from leaving,” wrote the lawmakers. “This vital grant program helps the federal government ensure that more domestic violence shelters are able to accommodate victims with pets or arrange for third party pet shelter.”

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Minnesota Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith (both Democrats) signed onto the letter. And in related news, Craig joined South Dakota Republican Dusty Johnson to create the Bipartisan Congressional Pet Caucus last week. I’m working to get MinnPost to appoint my corgi puppy as Washington Pet Correspondent, but tough luck so far.

What I’m reading

  • “BBC Ukraine Editor: There is no safe place anymore,” BBC News. I’m just going to quote one paragraph from this story: “I dressed my 10-year-old son. We had some breakfast, sitting as far from the windows as we could, but he was so scared he vomited. We took a candle and some water to our cellar, which will be our refuge if things get worse.”
  • “On TikTok, livestreams show protests … and attract scams,” NBC News. If you’ve ever been on TikTok, you’ve likely come across livestreams in which people can ask for “gifts” or donations to support their work. Some people are livestreaming the current chaos in Ukraine in an attempt to let the world know what is happening to people on the ground there. But some of the streams purporting to come from Ukraine appear to actually be fake, garnering followers and donations despite using fake footage. One video with almost 20 million views depicted a soldier parachuting out of an airplane. It turns out that it was a repurposed video that first appeared on Instagram in 2016.

That’s all from me this week. Thanks for reading. As always, please feel free to send any questions, comments or stories about how your pet helped you through hard times to ahackett@minnpost.com, or follow me on Twitter at @byashleyhackett.