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Republican former Ohio U.S. Senator calls House GOP “rudderless,” backs support for Ukraine

Former U.S. Senator Rob Portman delivers remarks in front of a crowd at the Ohio Union on Oct. 27, 2023
Sarah Donaldson
Statehouse News Bureau
Former U.S. Senator Rob Portman delivers remarks in front of a crowd at the Ohio Union on Oct. 27, 2023

Republican former U.S. Senator Rob Portman took the stage at a public affairs leaders’ forum at the Ohio State University on Friday morning, where he talked public service, rising partisanship and astronauts.

Portman, who served in both chambers of Congress as well as in the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, retired from government at the end of his senate term in January 2023.

He said in an interview after the event Friday he thinks J.D. Vance (R-OH), who took over his seat, has done well in his first year. “He's new. He's not been in public office before, so he's—as he tells me—feeling his way through it,” Portman said.

But the two men stand in contrast to each other when it comes to at least one of their positions: on American aid for the Ukrainian war effort. It’s something Portman found himself more closely aligned on with Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH).

Portman said he believes its crucial for the U.S. to continue sending Ukraine funds and artillery, because “the alternative is much worse,” if Russia were to seize control of the country.

“They're (Ukrainians) the ones providing the bravery and the courage and the sacrifices, and we're providing, along with about 40 or 50 other countries, the tools they need to be able to defend themselves,” he said.

President Joe Biden said in an Oval Office address last Thursday he wants to see funding for Ukraine and Israel packaged together. Vance, however, is leading an effort to debate and vote on funding for each country independent of the other.

At the forum, Portman largely talked bipartisanship, and why he sees it as a necessary approach to politics. He highlighted his work on the infrastructure law in 2021 and took time to scold those in Congress who kicked off a weekslong standoff over the speakership in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“That Sunday, who was on ‘Meet The Press’? The three Republicans who were part of the 3.6% of the Republican caucus that voted against Kevin McCarthy. They got what they wanted. By the way, they also fundraised online, as has now been reported, and raised millions of dollars,” he said.

The country was left “rudderless," he said, and it sent a bad signal to the rest of the world.

Since leaving the senate, Portman has been involved in establishing and fundraising the Portman Center for Policy Solutions at the University of Cincinnati, which is named after him.

Sarah Donaldson covers government, policy, politics and elections for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. Contact her at
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