A young Ukrainian mother, maybe 30 or 35 years old, was coming across the Ukraine-Poland border with her mother, grandmother and family — well dressed with just one bag for everyone — and was offered an American $50 bill by someone who really wanted to help. The woman and her family, fleeing Russia’s armed conflict in the region, refused the money, saying she and her loved ones had no intentions of leaving Ukraine, that going into Poland was only temporary.
Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Santa Clarita, said this scene, which he witnessed firsthand during a trip this month with a bipartisan delegation of U.S. lawmakers to Poland, touched him deeply, as this family, he said, was a middle-class group of people that could’ve been living right here in the Santa Clarita Valley.
“The Ukrainians take great pride in their country,” Garcia told The Signal after his trip overseas. “They take great pride in their own success and taking care of themselves, and it was just a powerful statement to see them flat-out reject the financial support and then say, ‘Hey, we’re going back. This is temporary.’”
Garcia’s trip was part of an effort, he said, to make sure that the funding the U.S. is allocating — possibly up to $13 billion in arms to the Ukrainians — is being spent properly and that anything that’s being done, especially on the humanitarian side, is being done correctly. While in Warsaw, Garcia met with the prime minister of Poland, the defense minister of Poland, and the U.S. ambassador to Poland. He also visited with Ukrainian officials, Ukrainian refugees and soldiers in the U.S. Army.
In addition to Garcia, lawmakers on the trip included Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, Republican Whip Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana, Foreign Affairs Committee Republican Lead Michael McCaul, R-Texas, Select Committee on Intelligence Ranking Member Michael Turner, R-Ohio, Rep. Ken Calvert, R-California, Rep. French Hill, R-Alaska, Rep. Kathleen Rice, D-New York, Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Florida, and Rep. Michelle Fischbach, R-Minnesota.
One of Garcia’s takeaways from the trip was the feeling that, had Americans done something sooner in this conflict, perhaps war could’ve been averted. The U.S., he said, is spending more money, time and effort now due to taking action too late.
“Had we dialed up the direct military support to not only Poland and Romania and the surrounding countries, but also get significant military equipment into the Ukrainians’ hands — in war fighters’ hands,” Garcia said, “we may have actually made a strategic deterrence.”
Garcia added that reflecting upon the nation’s late actions in Ukraine should also make Americans consider the current dynamic between China and Taiwan.
“A couple of weeks ago, I sent a letter to the White House to President Biden,” Garcia said. “The letter basically said, ‘Look, you’ve got to hold China accountable just like you’re holding Russia accountable right now. We took action too late against Putin. We almost enabled him — we did enable him, in my opinion — by being so late in these levers we pulled.’”
And so, Garcia is calling upon the president to start “pulling these levers” now to avoid a possible shooting conflict or annexation from China against the Taiwanese.
Another takeaway from the trip for Garcia, he said, was thinking about how some Americans have come to the conclusion that they should be more isolationist as a result of the conflict in Ukraine.
“I’m certainly not advocating using U.S. troops in combat in some of these scenarios,” Garcia said, “but we can’t act like the rest of the world’s problems are not also ours. Because they do boil over.”
As these problems get worse, he added, the tougher it’ll be to eventually get involved.
Garcia’s trip came to an emotional peak for him when he visited an airfield in Constanta, Romania, he said, where he voiced his appreciation to U.S. Army soldiers about what they were doing to hold the line and essentially stop Putin in his tracks.
“This young U.S. Army soldier, without hesitating, says, ‘Well, if he doesn’t, sir, we’ll be here to convince him to stop.’”
Garcia added that there were a lot of lessons learned from his trip, but that the soldier’s sentiments really stood out. “It was one of those moments,” he said, “where you’re proud to be an American.”