Republicans call on Obama to act on Ukraine
March 1st, 2014
04:40 PM ET
9 months ago

Republicans call on Obama to act on Ukraine

Washington (CNN) - As the Ukrainian military readied for a possible widespread Russian incursion into its Crimea region, Republican lawmakers urged President Barack Obama to take action to prevent the situation from descending into chaos.

In a statement released Saturday, Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, said he is "deeply concerned" Russia's presence in Ukraine could expand if the President does not outline consequences for President Vladimir Putin's regime.


"President Obama said that Russia would face 'costs' if it intervened militarily in Ukraine," McCain said. "It is now essential for the President to articulate exactly what those costs will be and to take steps urgently to impose them."

On Saturday, Obama spoke by phone with Putin for 90 minutes, and expressed "his deep concern over Russia's clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity," according to a statement released by the White House.

Putin requested and received unanimous approval from Russia's upper house of Parliament to send Russian military forces into Crimea to secure the lives of Russian citizens and military personnel he says have been threatened.

Despite a flurry of activity Saturday in Washington, including a confab of the President's national security team, the White House remained mum on how the United States intended to respond to the situation.

A member of the Senate Armed Services and Senate Foreign Relations Committee, McCain called Russia's actions an "ongoing military intervention" that would only worsen in severity so long as the President and the international community sit on the sidelines.

"Every moment the United States and our allies fail to respond sends the signal to President Putin that he can be even more ambitious and aggressive in his military intervention in Ukraine," McCain said.

McCain, the President's former Republican rival in the 2008 presidential election, has routinely criticized the Obama administration's foreign policy, painting the White House as rudderless in their dealings with other nations.

In a February interview with a Phoenix radio station, the Arizona senator branded Obama as "the most naive president in history," sentiments he echoed Saturday.

"None of us should be under any illusion about what President Putin is capable of doing in Ukraine," McCain said.

President's foreign policy a favorite GOP target

McCain's pronouncement was one of a growing number of GOP statements demanding the White House act on Ukraine, but only the latest in a long line of Republicans taking aim at the president's foreign policy.

Now in his sixth year as commander in chief, the President has tried, mostly to no avail, to quiet a constant din of skeptics questioning his overseas priorities. His moves to end the war in Iraq and draw down the U.S. presence in Afghanistan reflect the Obama administration's evolving policy goals.

But the White House's handling last year of Syria's spiraling civil war renewed questions over whether Washington had abdicated its leadership role in world affairs and Obama was content to "lead from behind."

At January's World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Secretary of State John Kerry protested that reports of America's demise as a foreign policy power were greatly exaggerated.

"I am perplexed by claims that I occasionally hear that somehow America is disengaging from the world - this myth that we are pulling back or giving up or standing down," Kerry said. "I want to make it clear today that nothing could be further from the truth."

But a September CNN/ORC reflects a disconnect between the administration's words and the public's perceptions; only four in 10 Americans approved of the President's handling of foreign policy, the lowest level ever recorded on that issue in CNN polling.

According to a CBS News/New York Times poll released Wednesday, Obama's ratings on foreign affairs have yet to recover in the face of a new crisis. The survey found 39% of Americans currently approve of his approach to foreign policy.

Rubio: Time to punish Russia

The President's vulnerability on the issue has sparked a flurry of criticism, including from a potential Republican 2016 presidential contender. In an op-ed published Saturday morning in Politico, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, enumerated eight steps he believes Obama "must take to punish Russia" for encroaching on Ukraine's sovereign territory. Rubio framed the ongoing crisis as "a critical moment in world history."

"The credibility of the alliances and security assurances that have preserved the international order is at stake," Rubio said in the piece. "If Putin's illegal actions are allowed to stand unpunished, it will usher in a dark and dangerous era in world affairs."

"The President must now accept that the only way to deal with tyrants like Vladimir Putin is with a clear understanding that they can't be trusted and that only decisive action will deter their provocative moves," Rubio wrote.

Though Rubio and other 2016 hopefuls might use Ukraine's plight to bolster their foreign policy bona fides, their calls for decisive action have limited real world recourse.

As the rhetoric on both sides of the aisle escalates, the United States and its European allies have limited options - short of engaging the military - for impacting the situation on the ground in Ukraine.

The lack of avenues available to the administration did not silence the GOP's rancor.

Ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, said Obama must "lead a meaningful, unified response" to the crisis, something he has thus far failed to do.

"The Russian government has felt free to intervene militarily in Ukraine because the United States," Corker said in a statement, "along with Europe, has failed to make clear there would be serious, potentially irreparable consequences to such action."

Corker said Congress would consider targeted sanctions against Russia but pressed again for immediate action from the White House.

"The United States and our European allies should immediately bring to bear all elements of our collective economic strength to stop Russian advances in Ukraine," he said.

Warning about standing on the sideline

The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Buck McKeon, R-California, painted the administration's hesitance to intervene in even starker terms.

"History judges perpetrators of these actions poorly, as it does those who stand idly by," McKeon said in a statement. "Our response should demonstrate the U.S. stands by its friends against bullies."

Calling Putin a would-be empire builder whose actions are a "throwback" to the Cold War, McKeon continued, saying Russia's military maneuvering has "violated the freedom of all Ukrainians."

Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, gave perhaps the most cutting critique of the Obama administration's response.

"Emboldened by President Obama's trembling inaction, Vladimir Putin has invaded the Crimea region of Ukraine," Cotton, who sits on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said in a statement.

Cotton, the GOP challenger for incumbent Democrat Mark Pryor's senate seat, sketched out a series of potential actions President Obama could take against Russia should they not withdraw from the Crimea: revoking travel visas, freezing assets of senior Russian officials, rescheduling the G-8 summit in Sochi, suspending Russia from the forum of governments, and recalling the U.S. ambassador to Russia.

"Putin must be punished for his outlaw actions and the Russian people and elites must recognize they will pay a price for them," Cotton said.

Still, the Arkansas lawmaker believes the fate of Ukraine hangs in the balance.

"The hours ahead will decide whether this invasion of Crimea is repelled or expanded to the whole of Ukraine, and whether the West finally confronts Putin or again blinks in disgrace," he said.


Filed under: Bob Corker • Buck Mckeon • House Republicans • John McCain • Tom Cotton • Ukraine
soundoff (642 Responses)
  1. PercyA

    Here we go again with the republican's wanting to shoot first, hey clown's this is not Irag'

    March 1, 2014 10:04 pm at 10:04 pm |
  2. Pander Bear

    Yeah! Hurry up and do something so we can tell you it was the wrong thing, or that you should have done it sooner, or that you did it too fast, or that you didn't do anything at all because you are a ruthless dictator who will stop at nothing to destroy American while simultaneously not doing enough. Signed, the deranged right wing.

    March 1, 2014 10:06 pm at 10:06 pm |
  3. john

    Many are correct in regards to the U.S. and the EU lack-luster response to Russia military intervention in Ukraine. I believe someone should had proposed that we send in a joint force similar to what Russia & NATO did during the period when the former Yugoslav Republic broke up. Also, to play devil's advocate, if we had a huge presence of American citizens in a 2nd world country, wouldn't the U.S. had deployed military personnel.......think about the Olympics, we had all sorts of military contingency on standby for a purported terrorist attack.

    March 1, 2014 10:06 pm at 10:06 pm |
  4. savitra

    Yes, the Republicans have so much credibility calling for Russia not to invade another country where there "interests are threatened," after repeated invasions and occupations by Republican presidents into other countries for no good reason (Grenada, Iraq – the second time, not the first, to name only 2).

    March 1, 2014 10:11 pm at 10:11 pm |
  5. Robert

    Please GOP stay out of it and let the President do you job. Americans don't need your outrageous bombastic opinions at this time.

    March 1, 2014 10:11 pm at 10:11 pm |
  6. steve

    Act, what does that mean, another war? What is it with these Republicans?

    March 1, 2014 10:12 pm at 10:12 pm |
  7. Robert

    Please GOP stay out of it and let the President do his job. Americans don't need your outrageous bombastic comments and opinions at this time.

    March 1, 2014 10:12 pm at 10:12 pm |
  8. rs1201

    Both republicans and democrats better cool their jets...we don't need a war with Russia...just keep cool!

    March 1, 2014 10:13 pm at 10:13 pm |
  9. jake

    Where was the most corrupt, incompetent, inept president in history during the National Security meeting today? he would be retired in Crawford.......

    March 1, 2014 10:15 pm at 10:15 pm |
  10. antique-republican

    us stick your nose out of Ukraine. you have no say or jurisdiction here with your track record in the world and what your evil cia has done

    March 1, 2014 10:18 pm at 10:18 pm |
  11. Hank

    GOP is dominated by military zealots. They are hell bent on getting involved in any conflict happening in the world so they can use their military toys that we've spent gazillions on. This country needs to take a step back once in a while, learn what restraint and silence can do, act like better leaders instead of running into every country and threatening them with our might. OUr might is just pompous egos driven to make us nothing but a military antagonist nation. No other nation is reacting as out of control as we are. PUtin is in control, not looking to attack, just defend and keep peace and order in an area of Ukraine that did not support an overthrown of the government. How come the protesters think that just cause the acted out of total frenzied reactionary methods and went ballistic, that every man, woman and child of Ukraine recognizes them as the governing voice over everyone? Crimea wants Russian presence, protection, security and presence. That's all I need to know and I support Russia's desire to maintain continuity in the crimea area. Back off America, you are being nothing more than out of control antagonists with zero justification in your actions. We don't need trouble here because a bunch of factious groups in Ukraine think they know what's right for the country. Let the EU handle this one with their military if they want to. Which I doubt they will as the know that PUtin isn't some evil war monger out to create global imbalance. But I am starting to think the USA is. Quit putting our well being in jeopardy because some within the military and government are itching to try out their big toys.

    March 1, 2014 10:18 pm at 10:18 pm |
  12. RZ

    Why do we need to get involved in this other than condemning it and being on the same page as the EU and UN? Putin and Obama talked for an hour and Putin will not back down. After a few messy months and a lot of talk and dead civilians the country will split. It will be a mess. This may end badly for Putin. He should have stayed out of it.

    The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.

    Thomas Jefferson

    March 1, 2014 10:26 pm at 10:26 pm |
  13. Jimmy

    Putin is a veteran of the KGB and Obama is a veteran of social service work.Like putting a superbowl team on the field against a little league team.

    March 1, 2014 10:28 pm at 10:28 pm |
  14. ED1

    Do you really think Putin cares what Obama or the United States for that matter we are a much weaker Country since Obama, Clinton, and Kerry has been in their offices God help us all before it's to late.

    March 1, 2014 10:37 pm at 10:37 pm |
  15. Kaznukelhed

    I feel Putin will do what ever he feels necessary to prevent Ukraine from joining the EU and NATO (promoted by Europe and the USA), which he perceives as a direct threat to Russian security.
    He doesn't care what the rest of the world thinks either. The USA or NATO cannot stop him and he knows it.
    Not exactly walking softly, at this moment Putin carries the BIG STICK.

    March 1, 2014 10:39 pm at 10:39 pm |
  16. bjack

    Given Obama's history, I am confident that he will make the right decisions for the good of the country in this matter. His problem is, and this goes to the weakness of the braintrust that surrounds him, he is not likely to adequately explain to the public the reasoning behind his decisions. To his detriment, his critics are expected –as they frequently have done in the past– to exploit this openings, in putting their spin on the subject that will essentially explain that whatever he says was a total failure.

    March 1, 2014 10:39 pm at 10:39 pm |
  17. Servando

    Obama has made the United States the laughing stock of the world . You can not talk your way out of this problem especially by down sizing the military .

    March 1, 2014 10:40 pm at 10:40 pm |
  18. gee

    McCain and the rest of the war drum beaters – stay out of this discussion. You and your cohorts just can't stand that we are about to be without a war!!!

    March 1, 2014 10:43 pm at 10:43 pm |
  19. Alan Fisher

    Where was the most corrupt, incompetent, inept president in history during the National Security meeting today??? The Answer.... Keeping us out of another War....... I just do not understand what some people think we could do.by calling the President "the most corrupt, incompetent, inept president in history" but that still does not help.... explain the Dirty Harry Syndrome? If this person is so smart then what would you do for the people of the Ukraine, The Sudan, Syria? How many more Americans need to die? It is terrible, sickening, disgusting that we still have these mental midgets like Putin and others that need to control others. How about a real simple answer to a major human tragedy.

    March 1, 2014 10:44 pm at 10:44 pm |
  20. William Zabel

    Big mouth McCain at it again. And just what do you want Obama to do, start world war 3 idiot? McCain should go ver to the Ukraine and deal with the Russians himself. Nothing will be done as usual as we saw in South Osetia.Russians stomp their foot and America runs and hides.

    March 1, 2014 10:45 pm at 10:45 pm |
  21. Weasley

    Rather than display a united front, one that might actually give Russia pause, the Republicans in Congress are playing right into Putin's hands by creating discord within our own government.

    Sadly, conservative dimwits like Cotton, are too dense to realize that Putin isn't playing Obama, he's playing the GOP.

    March 1, 2014 10:45 pm at 10:45 pm |
  22. HungryHippo

    GOP representatives like McCain are criticizing the the President because they know it's an easy shot. They know the President can't intervene militarily without causing a full-scale war (which they would blame on him), and any political/economic sanctions will be viewed as going soft on Putin. It's a complicated, muddy situation involving multiple parties with very few good avenues, which is the best situation for the opposing political party. They can frame it as a clear-cut, black-and-white situation when they know it's not. The worst situation is when you have a standing president that doesn't recognize the complexity of the situation and will intervene without thinking (do I even need to mention the prime example of that...)

    March 1, 2014 10:46 pm at 10:46 pm |
  23. trioofsixes

    It's simple. we send troops to remove them from ukraine. If they fight back, we send troops to remove Putin.

    We could decimate china and russia at the same time without any threat to the homeland.

    March 1, 2014 10:47 pm at 10:47 pm |
  24. patw2100

    Should have know McCain would want America to get in another war. Guess he and his corporate owners haven't killed enough GIs the last 13 years.

    March 1, 2014 10:48 pm at 10:48 pm |
  25. trioofsixes

    We could decimate russia and china at the same time without any threat to the homeland.

    If you think otherwise you are wrong.

    russia has 14 bases abroad and one carrier.

    China has none, and one carrier.

    We have over 700, and ten carrier groups.

    we also have far more anti nuke measures than the populace knows about.

    we should remove the russians from ukraine, and if they don't like it, remind them we can remove putin from russia too.

    March 1, 2014 10:51 pm at 10:51 pm |
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