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. stevetall

    Great. John McCain is still acting like a tool. Maybe you don't know how this is supposed to work, John, but the first rule of international diplomacy is that you absolutely do not just start making threats. We must all be patient and see how things begin to unfold before you go shooting your mouth off, you nincompoop. Chill out, take your pills, and pay attention. You just might learn something.

    March 2, 2014 01:53 am at 1:53 am |
  2. NoL

    You have to do something, President Obama wouldn't have come out Friday in an emergency press conference if he himself didn't think this was dire.
    If you behave like a coward, no one respects you. Putin is a cold war thug, so you have to think on the same terms, you are not going to reason with someone who lives in a different time period. Imagine trying to teach a caveman how to shave, or tie a shoe...

    March 2, 2014 01:55 am at 1:55 am |
  3. Mopery

    Here's the thing, Russia's not doing anything the U.S. hasn't done in recent history, by which I mean invading a sovereign nation unilaterally(see: Iraq War). Oh wait, we had a "coalition" consisting of a couple thousand cheerleaders from 3rd world countries. Anyhow, this is Bush's mistake coming back to bite us in the a$s, we act and we're hypocrites before the entire world. We do nothing, and we're basically back to even. If Europe or the U.S. tries to intervene militarily, it's WW III, and we all die.

    March 2, 2014 01:58 am at 1:58 am |
  4. Mugzee44

    Let"s mind our own business for once and repair our own torn up Country, Let NATO and the U.N. handle this one.

    March 2, 2014 02:08 am at 2:08 am |
  5. Char259

    Why oesnt Obama draw a line in the sand, that worked last time fight, lol. Pres Obama is so over his head

    March 2, 2014 02:22 am at 2:22 am |
  6. Patricia

    The GOP is always calling for war. They are a useless bunch who do not think. There has to be a unified response by international organizations. There is not much that the U.S. can do. We simply cannot be the world's policeman. Acting unilaterally would be a real mistake. I think that the last morons proved this with the useless and costly invasion of Iraq. We have been at war constantly for many years, and we have to realize that we cannot afford it. Our own nation needs to be rebuilt now and our own long-neglected people cared for.

    March 2, 2014 02:24 am at 2:24 am |
  7. Chip

    McCain and his cronies are all lost in a wonderland world of their making.

    March 2, 2014 02:26 am at 2:26 am |
  8. Gordon Jones

    McCain will probably recommend that we put Ted Nugent on a plane and fly him to the Crimea. Problem solved.

    March 2, 2014 02:32 am at 2:32 am |
  9. I R Amazed

    Can somebody please explain what exactly we're supposed to do?
    Economic sanctions won't work. Are these fools actually recommending military action against Russia?
    I can almost hear the complaints now that if we'd only allowed and encouraged Ukraine to retain their Soviet era nukes, this never would have happened.

    By the way Stuffit, when it comes to corrupt presidents, Reagan beats out virtually everyone since Harding and Teapot Dome, including Nixon. All you need to do is count up all of the Reaganites that were actually convicted and pardoned and every claim about Obama being corrupt is nothing more than a Dennis Miller punchline that nobody gets. And when it comes to incompetent presidencies, Shrub and Buchanan take the blue ribbon.

    March 2, 2014 02:58 am at 2:58 am |
  10. Mike

    Isn't it interesting how we Americans love to blame our president, not realizing what it is like to be in his shoes. It is much, much easier to talk than to actually deal with a crisis. What did Bush do when Russia invaded Georgia in 2008? And he is much more competent than this laziest president, I see.

    March 2, 2014 02:58 am at 2:58 am |
  11. Toto-Ks

    This article is so biased. Just what are the advices of our Democrat Senators and Congress? Reps just want to fight period! They can't even get along with with one another. Stay out of it mccain and all others bent on money wars and buying elections on top of everything else. NO

    March 2, 2014 03:15 am at 3:15 am |
  12. John Tighe

    The Conservatives are as accurate in matters of foreign affairs as a "Magic 8 Ball".

    March 2, 2014 03:15 am at 3:15 am |
  13. randomguy9999

    we can't act and Russia knows it... no way we are able to take on a direct conflict with Russia.

    They are thinking they'll just take over and nobody will be willing to get in a real war with 500,000 plus troops in order to save the Ukraine... and they are right.

    March 2, 2014 03:21 am at 3:21 am |
  14. Toto-Ks

    This article is so biased. Just what are the advices of our Democrat Senators and Congress? Reps just want to fight period! They can't even get along with with one another. Stay out of it mccain and all others bent on money wars and buying elections on top of everything else. NOV. 5TH! VOTE STRAIGHT DEMOCRAT TICKET! The only BALANCED American govt. we may have since reps thrive on dissention.

    March 2, 2014 03:25 am at 3:25 am |
  15. troppo1

    They want another war, but they wont fund it. That way they can blame Obama both ways.

    March 2, 2014 03:31 am at 3:31 am |
  16. Jim Rome

    The GOP has had their entire campaigns financed by defense contractors. So what do you think the GOP wants? Gee... let's think. Oh, yeah. That's right. They want war. War at any cost. War day and night. The 24 hour Liz Cheney channel. Dick Cheney begging for more war action on TV last week. It's outrageous. The Republicon party has no credibility at all. We are not team America World Police paid for by the US taxpayers. No more.

    March 2, 2014 03:34 am at 3:34 am |
  17. bribarian

    go back to your crypt McCain

    March 2, 2014 03:42 am at 3:42 am |
  18. Hmm_YaThink

    Just hope this turn into a modern day Cuban Missile crisis. Russia does have interests in that region that they need to protect. Just hope they don't go into the Ukraine itself that be a huge blunder and Putin is way to smart for that.

    March 2, 2014 03:51 am at 3:51 am |
  19. Hmm_YaThink

    Just hope this doesn't turn into a modern day Cuban Missile crisis. Russia does have interests in that region that they need to protect. Just hope they don't go into the Ukraine itself that be a huge blunder and Putin is way to smart for that.

    March 2, 2014 03:52 am at 3:52 am |
  20. Heuib

    I guess the GOP would have us go to war with Russia and sacrifice thousands of American lives to save Ukrain. In reality if they were in power they wouldn't do anything either because everyone knows we are not going to war with Russia over this.

    March 2, 2014 03:53 am at 3:53 am |
  21. James

    Tougher action than mere cosmetic economic sanctions this is an Oil State nation NO direct military police action is needed Europe needs no red lines the lines are clearly defined by treaties and ancient deals and alliances chiseled in stone immediate insertion of troops must be quickly initiated .

    March 2, 2014 04:10 am at 4:10 am |
  22. William

    Yep when you know nothing and have no idea what to do, demand the President act immediately or call him names. Both prove the bankruptcy of the party of inaction and ignorance. How do you stop a major land power armed with nuclear weapons from acting within their sphere of influence, the Republicans suggest nothing because they are useless, unless you want food taken from the mouths of babes. And the person who hides behind the nom de guerre of Stufitu's post was typically useless.

    March 2, 2014 04:15 am at 4:15 am |
  23. asta dog

    Let's point fingers at Russia and rush to condemn them and threaten military action......

    Ummmmm.... Granada anyone? Panama? I know it is TOTALLY different when the US is only protecting it's citizens in a foreign land. I know... Crimeans are not technically Russians.... Just usta was and they have a naval base there.

    March 2, 2014 04:21 am at 4:21 am |
  24. Mark Smith

    The GOP has one agenda...destroy this country in the name of hate...F em.....

    March 2, 2014 04:28 am at 4:28 am |
  25. tominthebv

    "Revoking travel visas"??!! That's the Republican call for action? I'll bet that will have Putin quaking in his boots. President Obama's response will be exactly the same as George Bush's response in 2008 to the Russian invasion of Georgia-watch and wait to see how this plays out. Short of taking out the Black Sea fleet ported in the Crimea (since the reality is force is the only thing the Russians understand), anything else is simply "I'll huff and I'll puff....". Then when a nuke lands on Phoenix, I'll bet Sen. McCain and the other moron Republicans will be the first in line to say "That's not what I meant....". By the way, count the Europeans out in this mess; they are far more educated than Americans are in the history of the area and the Ukraine in particular and are probably not surprised at all at the Russian response.

    March 2, 2014 04:42 am at 4:42 am |
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