Republicans call on Obama to act on Ukraine
March 1st, 2014
04:40 PM ET
7 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. Derrick Campbell

    The only action the US should take is diplomacy with the UN regarding this situation. If action is a necessity, then it should be applied by UN Coalition NOT the United States ... This is NOT the Cold War Era and we ALL know profits are made from war! I'm tired of the US being the head of the spear in EVERY situation ... Yes, we have an obligation to assist the world, but we can't solve the ENTIRE world's problems by ourselves, isn't that's what the UN is for????

    March 2, 2014 12:01 am at 12:01 am |
  2. dou44

    The Americans didn't get much for their 5 billion dollar aid package to the Kiev mobs. Fomenting violence and chaos to build more military bases along fossil fuel pipeline routes is the American way.

    March 2, 2014 12:03 am at 12:03 am |
  3. NameDavid

    Well here we go thanks to all who voted and to Obama for leading us to this point good thing I'm not running the show I'd start. Sending units to serria Iran and if Ukraine want there that would get Putin's attention and then we could have a seriuos talk

    March 2, 2014 12:04 am at 12:04 am |
  4. America1st

    The Republicans, thanks to the Tea Party just last week gave concensus of NO INVOLVEMENT. Now they want Obama to save their hineys despite emboldening Russia from going in. What a bunch of bananas. And don't forget to PAY FOR THIS WAR tea slags. Not on the backs of the poor, either.

    March 2, 2014 12:05 am at 12:05 am |
  5. America1st

    Probably good news for Obama. Takes the issue away from Healthcare, which is working, but getting maligned by the Koch Brothers..

    March 2, 2014 12:06 am at 12:06 am |
  6. Sandra

    @rs: YES! Sorry, just had to post to back you up here since there's no "like" or thumbs up button.

    I'm so disgusted by the R's blathering, I just wanna shut them all up with crate of duct tape.

    March 2, 2014 12:08 am at 12:08 am |
  7. NameCraig

    Do you think any Russia would complain if we sent troops to say Texas if they wanted to leave the union . I don't want my kids or grandchildren to fight another country because it's screwed up and has dictators or crazy fundamentalist that we can't help but feel like we need to , Obama should keep his mouth shut . He has not done anything right since elections, Don't try now unless your willing to put your own kids to death, Maby it's all talk we can't get any oil con sessions in Ukrain anyway. Unless there are a bunch of lazy I morale black kids that feel like Putin dissed them

    March 2, 2014 12:10 am at 12:10 am |
  8. JG

    It's long overdue, that every GOP member have a rifle strapped to their backs, packed into a C-17 and dropped right into the middle of a situation like this.

    March 2, 2014 12:14 am at 12:14 am |
  9. Bobbie Flowers

    I wonder what does Putin/Russia feel about. U.S., invasion into Iraq and Afghanistan.

    March 2, 2014 12:14 am at 12:14 am |
  10. Doug

    Putin invaded Ukraine because Obama is black. Putin is a racist. Time for obama to get out the crayons and "draw a red line". Obama is just so artsy fartsy.

    March 2, 2014 12:15 am at 12:15 am |
  11. Greg

    What position are we really in? No matter what action we take, Russia will do as they please. In my opinion that is the true state of our nation.
    I don't believe there is any type of diplomacy that Russia prefers to engage in. Putin I believe is ready to reinstate Russia's position militarily and will not take no for an answer. We are no longer in the position we once were thanks to all the outsourcing and economically degrading actions our corporate monsters have engaged in. They gave it all away! Try to take military action and Russia will not back down and even stated not long ago they would be willing to use nuclear arms to protect their own interests if needed.
    I believe the only thing we could ever do would be to engage militarily, and we are dealing with the old hard line KGB mentality. Either the cold war is back or the United States officially loses its position in world dominance and influence. This is TRULY a pivotal moment in world history.

    March 2, 2014 12:25 am at 12:25 am |
  12. Sophie Meyer

    Of course the GOP is calling on Obama to act – so they can criticize whatever position he takes. Their typical knee-jerk criticisms ring more hollow every day. I suppose we should follow wrong way John McCain and his claim that we're all Ukrainians now. Good lord, don't ever take a republicans lead on issues of national security – we're still cleaning up the messes from the last time.

    March 2, 2014 12:26 am at 12:26 am |
  13. Cat_Whiskers

    "Where was the most corrupt, incompetent, inept president in history during the National Security meeting today??? " On the phone with Putin, for 90 minutes.

    March 2, 2014 12:32 am at 12:32 am |
  14. Jazzman

    Now everyone is jumping up and down screaming for Obama to do something but none of these elected chumps has been able to come up with any appropriate response. If Obama decides to seek approval to intervene through congress, they will all disappear......Though President Obama would not welcome any coldwar antics between US and Russia, I would love to see some military activity geared towards a response to what Russia is currently doing in Ukraine. they have no right to occupy another Nation. War is not an option! Continue with Dialogue and make promise that if necessary, Deadly Force will be used when all fails.

    March 2, 2014 12:36 am at 12:36 am |
  15. john wright

    It's a fact that Putin siezed upon the dithering, indecisive and weak Obama to act as he did. The treaty of 1994 which protects Ukraine's borders has been broken and Obama hasn't had a plan in place for such an incident when the whole world saw Russia's incursion coming the proverbial mile away.

    March 2, 2014 12:37 am at 12:37 am |
  16. Scow

    Pres. Obama and Mr. Kerry, You might want to check the crew list on the international space station (Expedition 38). There are a few Americans that might need a taxi ride home from your buddy Putin.

    March 2, 2014 12:44 am at 12:44 am |
  17. Seth

    LMAO @ the sad and pathetic GOP. They can't even act like adults.

    March 2, 2014 12:49 am at 12:49 am |
  18. mucklucky

    last I heard was that the people of Ukraine wanted Russia to come in and help quell a civil uprising. No one condones violence and the people of Ukraine should be able to request help from Russia without Obama or McCain putting in their 2 cents.

    March 2, 2014 12:51 am at 12:51 am |
  19. sameeker

    The repugs are itching for another war to enrich their corporations. Obama is spot on when he says that our response will be part of an international response.

    March 2, 2014 01:30 am at 1:30 am |
  20. Ralter

    So... Rubio played Call of Duty and wants a war with Russian now?

    March 2, 2014 01:31 am at 1:31 am |
  21. Skarphace

    Sure, sure. "Do something". And as soon as we do anything, they blame Obama. The far right is just frothing at the mouth to say "Obama's war" over and over and over and over again.

    March 2, 2014 01:34 am at 1:34 am |
  22. Steve

    If McCain says it it should be summarily ignored. Being a POW does not qualify you for foreign policy.

    March 2, 2014 01:44 am at 1:44 am |
  23. Mopery

    Republicans call on Obama to start World War III...

    March 2, 2014 01:49 am at 1:49 am |
  24. thomase

    I say we need to mind our business. Enough things going on here. Wasn't Ukraine part of, i don't know, RUSSIA!

    March 2, 2014 01:52 am at 1:52 am |
  25. Al

    Interesting , what precisely US can do.....against nuclear weapon country, start appocalypse?. Bla bla , trades between Russia and US so little , not even counted ,..Russia is now standing in front of Nazi regime in Ukraine which outcast Russian language( where more than 20% of population are Russians) Russians and Jews people as second sort ,but US will revoke travel visas hahahaha what a joke. I see this if US government will restrict speaking Spanish in US.....same effect

    March 2, 2014 01:52 am at 1:52 am |
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