U.S. Rep. John Shimkus is feeling liberated these days. After 22 years in Congress, he’s chosen to retire, get out of Washington, D.C., and return to his hometown.
But the Collinsville Republican still has a year left in his term, and it appears he’s not going quietly.
Last month, he wrote a column — which unfortunately did not get wide distribution — that was remarkably prophetic.
More than a month before the House impeachment inquiry hearings involving President Donald Trump and Ukraine — along with unproven allegations that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 U.S. elections — Shimkus wrote a stirring defense of the Eastern European country. He also took on Trump and his allies who insist it was Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered in the elections.
“Our own 2016 Presidential Election was, unfortunately, the first time many Americans learned that Russia interferes in the domestic affairs of sovereign states through social media and their state-owned media outlets like RT and Ruptly,” Shimkus wrote Oct. 8. “The Ukrainians have been engulfed in this type of war with Russia as well. They aren’t falling for Russian propaganda, and neither should we when faced with it in our own society and in our own elections.”
He concluded, “I also urge restraint to those who would drag Ukraine, and President (Volodymyr) Zelensky, into the scorched-earth politics of personal destruction practiced here at home these days. Ukraine is caught in a very real war against Russia, and they need the encouragement and reassurance of the United States’ friendship and support.”
“Peace, democracy, freedom, and the rule of law is all that Ukraine is asking for. We should support that by respecting their duly elected leader and continuing to aid them in the fight against our common enemy.”
Shimkus, a West Point graduate who served in the Army on the old Czechoslovakia-West Germany border from 1981 through 1984, says his affinity for Eastern Europe comes from his heritage (he’s Lithuanian) and his appreciation for countries that broke away from the old Soviet Union, some of which have joined NATO.
It’s also why he wrote a column in August 2016 defending NATO against verbal attacks by his party’s candidate for president.
“NATO has thrived for many decades throughout countless election cycles in many countries. These countries have all gone through swings from the left to the right and back again,” he wrote at the time. “But even as national leaders have come and gone, NATO has remained steadfast in its mission to provide security for all its members, and it must continue to be that guarantee for future generations.”
On Trump: ‘I didn’t want to poke the bear’
Shimkus admitted he was careful in both columns not to mention Trump by name.
“I didn’t want to call him out. I didn’t want to poke the bear,” he said in an interview.
And he credited Trump for getting European nations to increase their support for NATO.
“The president is right that some of these bigger European countries are not paying their fair share. Only this president, crazy as he is, could get them to pay more,” Shimkus said.
But his message now is that the United States should stand by Ukraine, not tear it down.
“Cut Ukraine some slack because of the world they live in, the difficult neighbor they have who’s been meddling in their affairs since 1991,” he said. “They have a duly elected president and a parliament that wants to look west and reform.”
It’s a big country — the largest in Europe — that could be an important U.S. ally, he said.
“They’ve got like 35 million or 45 million people. It’s the largest land mass in Europe, a real breadbasket,” he said. “It’s not like our friends in the Baltics, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. It’s a big country by European standards and it speaks to why the Russians are so against them going into the Western orbit.”
On impeachment: ‘Let’s see what they bring’
Shimkus said he didn’t watch the impeachment hearings, primarily because his Energy and Commerce Committee was busy passing out 16 pieces of legislation in two days (thereby destroying the argument that Congress is too focused on impeachment to do anything else).
Some will get floor votes this month, he said.
But the impeachment debate is wearing people down, both in Congress and in Collinsville, he said.
“The supporters of the president are really angry over this. At church, I just happened to say to one man, ‘Well, the president really isn’t a very nice guy.’
“And he said, ‘Well, that’s what we need, guys who aren’t nice and will take on all those bureaucrats.’ I just said, ‘OK,’ and moved on.”
Shimkus is surprisingly noncommittal when asked whether he is against impeachment.
“Yeah, I think so. I think the best answer is to continue,” he said. “We don’t know what the articles (of impeachment) are. They haven’t filed them.
“It’s kind of a cop-out, but let’s see what they bring to the (House) floor. My guess is, though, that I think we should just let it go through the election cycle.”
Shimkus’ congressional district is overwhelmingly Republican but also fiercely pro-Trump. He heard it from his constituents when he said in October that he was so “heartbroken” over Trump’s abandonment of Syria that he could no longer support the president.
It’s essentially made Shimkus powerless in helping to choose his successor in Congress — if he wanted to.
“What could I bring them? Because of my frustration with the president in some areas, I’m not the golden child anymore,” he said of his relationship with the president. “I’m not bad. I haven’t been tweeted against. I think I’m still in the family, but it’s like someone they invite to the Thanksgiving meal and they hope they behave.”