U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt addresses the Missouri House Feb. 23. (Photo by Tim Bommel/Missouri House Communications)

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by Rudi Keller, Missouri Independent

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt says he isn’t imposing any conditions on his support for the eventual winner of the Republican primary to succeed him — even if the nominee is former Gov. Eric Greitens.

Blunt was asked about the GOP primary at a press conference following his Wednesday address to the Missouri House. He used his address to push plans to expand broadband access throughout the state and to chide the Missouri Senate for failing to pass a congressional redistricting map before filing for the eight seats opened on Tuesday.

In his address to the House, Blunt said that reaching every Missouri household with broadband internet connections is essential for supporting work, education and health care. Broadband opens opportunities that allow people to work remotely and live where they please, he said.

Gov. Mike Parson’s budget for the coming fiscal year provides more than $300 million to improve broadband access and speeds, using federal COVID-19 relief funds from the American Rescue Plan Act.

The COVID-19 pandemic presented many challenges, Blunt said, but it also “brought into focus the desire of people to live where they want to live and be connected to the greater society.”

Speaking to reporters after his speech, Blunt talked politics about the seat he is giving up after two terms and expressed support for the sanctions imposed Tuesday on Russia by President Joe Biden.

As he has said before, Blunt said he wants to stay out of the primary that has attracted 15 candidates, including Greitens, U.S. Reps. Vicky Hartzler and Billy Long, plus St. Louis attorney Mark McCloskey and state Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz.

“I am going to support the Republican nominee,” Blunt said.

Blunt lost a hotly contested primary for governor in 1992, and the lingering divisions helped elect Mel Carnahan as Missouri’s first Democratic governor in 12 years.

Blunt said he has worked with many of the candidates over the years.

“I hope this works itself out without my involvement,” Blunt said.

It is clear that it will be hard to close divisions in the GOP after the primary if Greitens prevails. After filing Tuesday, Hartzler said she would not support Greitens if he wins and cited the scandal that helped drive him from office in 2018.

“It is not conservative to tie a woman up in your basement and assault her,” Hartzler said.

Blunt also dismissed former Sen. Jack Danforth’s effort to enlist a Republican-leaning centrist to join the race as an independent.

“I think the Republican candidate needs to be the candidate that Missouri Republicans and conservatives rally around and I will be supporting the Republican candidate,” Blunt said.

The crisis in Ukraine continued to escalate, with an apparent full-scale invasion underway on Thursday.

On Tuesday, Biden said the United States would move U.S. forces and equipment already in Europe to the three Baltic states — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Economic sanctions were imposed on two of Russia’s financial institutions, the VEB and its military bank; Russian sovereign debt, cutting the nation off from Western financing; and Russian elites and their family members. Biden also barred new investment, trade and finance in the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic after Putin declared them independent.

While he wanted the sanctions imposed earlier, Blunt said, “I do think the president’s decision to call this what it is, an invasion, and the president’s decision to move forward with these sanctions is important.”

Further sanctions are needed, Blunt said.

“I think we are going to have to add, in all likelihood, sanctions to those individuals who really need to feel the pain of what happens when Russia is aggressive,” he said.

Other Western leaders are leading their country to impose sanctions, including German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who halted approval of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia.

Since World War II, only the breakup of Yugoslavia has resulted in warfare on the continent. It is important that Americans are united in opposing Russian aggression, he said.

“The 75 years of peace in Europe has only been achieved with American leadership and I hope we continue to have a strong voice in that part of the world,” Blunt said. “I am very worried that Putin is seeing how much he can get away with, with penalties he can accept.”

Missouri Independent

Missouri Independent is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Missouri Independent maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jason Hancock for questions: info@missouriindependent.com. More by Missouri Independent