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Lehigh Valley Election News

PA-7 Primary: Republican candidates talk foreign intervention

Ukraine Russia war
Efrem Lukatsky
Volunteers and students of Kyiv State Arts Academy clear rubble Saturday, March 30, 2024, after the academy was partly ruined during a Russian missile attack a few days earlier in Kyiv, Ukraine.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The three Republican candidates seeking the party's nomination for Pennsylvania's 7th Congressional District visited the Univest Public Public Media Center for one-on-one interviews with LehighValleyNews.com. The conversations are the basis of a five-part series this week focusing on policy issues ahead of the April 23 primary election. U.S. Rep. Susan Wild, who is unchallenged in the Democratic primary, declined to participate.

Today's issue: Foreign affairs (Second of five parts)

BETHLEHEM, Pa. — The trio of candidates competing in the Republican primary for Pennsylvania's 7th Congressional District by and large voiced strong support for former President Donald Trump's foreign policies.

Kevin Dellicker, Ryan Mackenzie and Maria Montero all blamed President Joe Biden for the rising number of conflicts in the world, saying his poor leadership has inspired America's adversaries to act out.

PART 1: The candidates on reproductive rights

And while they expressed different views on how the U.S. should flex its military might as a superpower, they agreed the U.S. needed to limit future support to Ukraine.


America has been one of the strongest supporters of NATO, the Western military alliance that's dominated geopolitical affairs over the past 70 years. But Trump broke decades of precedent when he called the organization obsolete early in his presidency.

He's since gone on to criticize members of the military alliance who haven't met defense spending goals set by a 2014 treaty — 2% of their GDP on defense. Earlier this year, he encouraged Russia to attack NATO nations that haven't lived up to their financial commitments.

His "America first" mentality and criticism of NATO has sparked wider debate on the U.S.'s role in sending humanitarian aid and military support to countries across the globe. The conversation has taken on greater importance during Biden's term as hot and cold wars have erupted across the globe.

Pennsylvania's 7th Congressional District represents all of Carbon, Lehigh and Northampton counties plus a sliver of Monroe County. It is among the most competitive districts in the nation.

For example, Congress has authorized $113 billion in aid to Ukraine since Russia invaded it in February 2022. The Ukrainian government has requested more funding as the war drags on, and Biden has asked Congress to honor its request. Trump has criticized the Senate's bipartisan $95 billion aid package for not having "strings attached," and the Republican-controlled House has balked at the deal.

At the same time, the U.S. has entered arms deals with Israel as Israel wages war in Gaza and with Taiwan as it seeks to protect its independence from China. The relationship with Taiwan has heightened tensions with China, one of the few nations powerful enough to challenge America militarily.

Meanwhile, Israel has launched a widespread bombing campaign in Gaza after Hamas, a terrorist organization and the de facto rulers of the territory, launched an attack and took hostages last Oct. 7. While hundreds of Israeli citizens died in the Hamas attack, Israel's response has left tens of thousands dead in Gaza. Many of those dead have been civilians, leading to protests here and abroad over America's support of Israel.

On the Issues: Kevin Dellicker on foreign policy

What they said

Dellicker, a lieutenant colonel in the Air National Guard, said he had the most experience on foreign affairs and military matters among the candidates.

While he supported Trump for pressuring NATO countries to carry their weight, Dellicker said he opposes the recent calls for isolationism. The United States should remain a stabilizing force in the world, he said, pointing to the Biden administration's attacks on Houthi rebels in the Red Sea as an appropriate use of force to protect global order. He added that America needs to improve its military capabilities, saying too many resources have been diverted overseas.

"The United States needs to make sure that we protect our interests around the world — that we protect our freedom here at home. And, we can't withdraw from the rest of the world in order to make that happen," he said.

At the same time, he criticized Biden and U.S. Rep. Susan Wild, D-Lehigh Valley, for engaging in conflicts that are not essential to American priorities — chief among them Ukraine. The U.S. ought to scale back its support and focus on ensuring that Russia doesn't take over the country, he said.

"Unless and until we can align our interests with Ukraine, I think sending more cash over there right now could actually prolong the war," he said.

Dellicker described himself as a stalwart supporter of Israel. To ensure a lasting peace in the region, the United States needs to give Israel the opportunity to root out Hamas, he said. Stopping the war before the terrorist organization is eliminated would only leave Israel vulnerable to future attacks, he said.

Lastly, the Chinese Communist Party, he said, is the United States' foremost enemy. Preventing it from invading Taiwan is critically important to American interests as the island is a key producer of semiconductors. That would have serious ramifications on the U.S. economy.

"If we allow China to take over that capacity, it doesn't just affect us militarily, it will affect us in the pocketbook in our kitchen tables right here in the Lehigh Valley," he said.

On the Issues: Maria Montero on foreign policy

Montero, meanwhile, questioned the nation's commitment abroad when there's a clear need for additional funding at home. Congress needs to secure its southern border, bring its deficit under control and invest in its own infrastructure, she said.

"I don't know how often you hear humanitarian aid coming from other countries to the United States. It's always, 'How is the United States going to help?'" Montero said.

Montero, a member of former Gov. Tom Corbett's administration, was the most critical of Biden's handling of the war in Ukraine. She accused Biden of not getting aid to Ukraine fast enough while also arguing the U.S. didn't do enough to hold Ukraine accountable for how the money was being spent. At the same time, she agreed that American troops should not be directly involved in the conflict.

However, Montero said assisting Israel is in America's best interests. Israel, she noted, is acting in self-defense after it was attacked and is a key ally in the Middle East. While she said the U.S. should work to alleviate suffering of Palestinians in Gaza, it should also stand strong with its Israeli allies.

"I believe it's so important for us, as an ally and partner, that we help support them with our intelligence, that we help support them in protecting their individuals and their citizens," she said.

Montero also pledged support to Taiwan. The best way to spread American values around the world is to secure independence and freedom from tyrannical governments, she said.

"We have always taken a strong stance when it comes to communism that started with Ronald Reagan," she said.

On the Issues: Ryan Mackenzie on foreign policy

Mackenzie, a state representative in his 12th year in office, said the United States needs to stay engaged in NATO but continue to pressure member nations to live up to their obligations. He noted that most of the alliance's member nations met the 2% threshold in 2023.

Congress needs to show restraint as global conflicts emerge, he said. The United States ought to crack down on illegal immigration and close its southern border before it starts sending billions of dollars overseas, he said.

"As an 'America first' conservative, I'm very concerned that we've been engaging ourselves in too many forever wars over the past 20 years, spending trillions of dollars and getting entangled into these conflicts needlessly," Mackenzie said.

For Mackenzie, that means cutting off aid to Ukraine but staying involved in Taiwan and Israel. Thousands of Ukrainians have already died while fighting off the invaders, and sending more money would merely prolong the fighting with little chance of affecting the outcome, he said.

"Ultimately, Russia is able to just fight out a war of attrition. And they will win that war, if that's the battle and the game that you want to play," Mackenzie said. "In that situation, we should not be continuing to fund (the war). We should be looking for a peaceful resolution there."

Israel, he noted, is the victim of a massive terrorist attack. Mackenzie said he sees no path towards peace in the Middle East until Hamas releases all of the hostages seized during last year's attack.

Mackenzie said the United States needs to stand with Taiwan as well, noting that its own national security interests aligned with a free Taiwan. The U.S. is reliant on Taiwan for much of its semiconductors. While Mackenzie supports shifting more production stateside, it's critical the U.S. support the island territory's independence without provoking China.

"It is in America's interest to maintain peace there and make sure that that tension that is already simmering doesn't explode," he said.

TOMORROW: The candidates discuss the economy

Pennsylvania's 7th Congressional District represents all of Carbon, Lehigh and Northampton counties plus a sliver of Monroe County. It is among the most competitive districts in the nation, with near equal numbers of registered Democratic and Republican voters. The House has been narrowly divided in recent years, making control of PA-7 crucial to the parties' efforts to hold a majority.