Ukraine vote draws lines for Senate race between Massie and Barr Skip to content

Ukraine vote draws lines for Senate race between Massie and Barr

Plus, Al Cross digs into other upcoming races, including other candidates for Senate and the 2027 governor’s race.

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Kentucky’s congressional Republicans were deeply divided on aid to Ukraine, setting the stage for their expected primary to succeed Sen. Mitch McConnell, who led the fight for it and seems likely to retire in 2026.

The loudest on each side were Reps. Thomas Massie of the Fourth District and Andy Barr of the Sixth District. Massie voted against the aid bill and criticized Barr for supporting it, after Barr threw shade at Massie on a related issue without naming him.

Both men have been in the House since 2013 and are logical candidates for the Senate. Barr is based in the only major media market limited to Kentucky, and is a senior member of two major House committees; Massie is the outspoken libertarian ally of Sen. Rand Paul, and they have access to major right-wing funders.

Before the House acted on Ukraine aid, it took up a border-security bill that failed because it needed a two-thirds vote to pass, under a rule supported by all Democrats and “a handful of self-destroying Republicans,” Barr posted on X. What he didn’t say was that those Republicans acted on behalf of all-but-certain presidential nominee Donald Trump, who opposes action on the border crisis so he can keep maximum advantage over President Biden on the issue.

One of those Republicans to which Barr referred was Massie. In a reply to Barr, he noted that House Speaker Mike Johnson couldn’t pass Ukraine aid without votes from Democrats, who “wanted [a] separate show-vote on border [issues] to give guys like Andy (who voted for $100B foreign aid) political cover. We refused to go along with charade in Rules Committee!” Massie, a Rules Committee member by virtue of a deal that elected previous speaker Kevin McCarthy, had voted against the rules for the border and Ukraine bills. That was a clear break with most House leaders, which he soon made clearer by endorsing Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s motion to vacate the speakership.

Barr made his own stance clearer, and put a label on Massie, by replying: “Another truth the isolationists don’t want to admit: Every border security bill will die in [Majority Leader Chuck] Schumer’s Senate . . . ” (In reality, the Senate has passed a bipartisan border-security bill, which Trump scuttled.)

Massie replied with a broadside aimed directly at Barr: “You voted for the omnibus. You voted for warrantless spying. You voted to send $60 billion to Ukraine today in exchange for nothing from the Senate. Speaker Johnson never tried to attach border security to this bill. Maybe it’s time to quit blaming conservatives for your votes.”

The omnibus was the recent spending bill to keep the government open. “Warrantless spying” is authorized in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which Massie and Paul tried to amend by requiring federal agencies to obtain a court order to buy Americans’ online data, David Catanese of the Lexington Herald-Leader reported. Massie got the measure through the House, but it failed in the Senate.

Paul’s political punch has increased lately, thanks to his alliance with billionaire Jeff Yass. In March, Yass gave $8 million to a political committee affiliated with Paul, Tom Loftus reported for the Kentucky Lantern. Yass owns 15% of the parent firm of Tik Tok; the firm would have to sell the social-media platform, under a bill the House passed as part of the package of aid to Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan and other nations. Massie voted no.

More candidates, more races

Besides Massie and Barr, another likely Senate candidate appears to be former attorney general Daniel Cameron. He recently formed his own PAC, which he said will give only to Kentucky Republicans. Cameron was the GOP nominee for governor last year, but seems to have made the Senate his new target.

The likeliest Republican candidate for governor in 2027 is Rep. James Comer of the First District, who lost the 2015 nomination by 83 votes. He told me Monday that he’d still rather be governor than anything else.

Comer voted against Ukraine aid, and said he didn’t look at the latest intelligence on the war, as Johnson had pleaded with members to do. “I have had nothing but bad experiences with the intelligence community,” Comer said, adding “We have to stop spending money we don’t have.” He said his district is “overwhelmingly” against the aid; that opinion has surely been solidified by Trump.

The rest of Kentucky’s delegation supported Ukraine aid. Rep. Hal Rogers of the Fifth District, who in some ways has the state’s Trumpiest district but is loyal to House leaders, heavily downplayed his vote for the aid in a press release that emphasized what Massie called his “show-vote” for border security. It said the Ukraine bill "includes a loan repayment agreement,” but that’s only for $9 billion, and the loan is forgivable. Rogers’s office said he saw the latest intelligence.

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Al Cross

Al Cross is director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and a professor at the University of Kentucky. He served as a political reporter and commentator at the Courier-Journal for 26 years.

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