Republicans call on Obama to act on Ukraine
March 1st, 2014
04:40 PM ET
6 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. dlabrie

    What does the GOP expect the president to do, threaten Russia with war? How about the EU and NATO take the lead here? We are not the world's policemen.

    March 2, 2014 07:01 am at 7:01 am |
  2. DJ

    Do something? When has the U.S. ever done anything, when it comes to Russian intervention? It'd be nice IF for once, the tough talk'n John Wayne wannabe GOP offered an ideal as to "Here is what we should do" as opposed to empty headed criticisms offering zero solutions. This country has NEVER jumped in Russia's way during a military intervention. Didn't do it in Georgia, Poland, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, nor Afghanistan; although we did manage to create the Mujahadeen, aka Al Qaeda on that one.

    March 2, 2014 07:10 am at 7:10 am |
  3. Max Conrad

    Obama skipped the National Security Team meeting regarding the Ukraine to attend a fundraiser. Yeah, Putin is real scared of Barry "I duzn't know nuthin" Soetoro.

    March 2, 2014 07:10 am at 7:10 am |
  4. dikelmm1

    Cheap shots. The fact is we will do the same thing we did in Hungary and Czechoslovakia when the Soviet Union invaded – nothing. The people not in power will criticize, but they would do the same unless the want WWIII.

    March 2, 2014 07:14 am at 7:14 am |
  5. dikelmm1

    Cheap shots from those not in power. The fact is we will do exactly what we did when the Soviet union invaded Hungary and Czechoslovakia – nothing. The Republicans would do the same if they were in power unless they wanted to start WWIII. Talk is cheap from the peanut gallery.

    March 2, 2014 07:17 am at 7:17 am |
  6. brons

    McCain is a hawk from the dinosaur era...if it was up to people like him we'd be in a perpetual state of war with everyone...Americans are SICK OF WAR!!!

    March 2, 2014 07:23 am at 7:23 am |
  7. Anonymous

    I think the Prez needs to draw another red line and then go play golf (that will show Putin we mean business). If that don't work, continue cutting the military and increase the min wage, SNAP and all the other free goodies.

    March 2, 2014 07:23 am at 7:23 am |
  8. Yooper57

    We cannot police the world it is the UN's job stay away from war you right war mongers so frickin sick of sending our kids to save the world!!!!! Where was the worst president ever!!when America was attacked oh yeah in FL reading a book upside down to first graders!!!!

    March 2, 2014 07:24 am at 7:24 am |
  9. jfoster13

    This is just typical of the republicans, instead of showing unity as a nation, their intents are to grandstand and try to make the President look bad. McCain knows that whatever actions the President makes (which will likely be diplomatic and economic) that it takes time. The President, Secretary of State and others have been busy talking to the Russians and in consultation with allies, but here come the GOP members demanding to know specifics about consequences and Obama taking more aggressive actions. McCain has been around a long time. he knows how this works. All the idiots wanting to trash the President have no idea what other actions we should be taking, it's just their opportunity to take political potshots. Bunch of idiots.

    March 2, 2014 07:25 am at 7:25 am |
  10. Jan Nappylotto

    Obama has turned the United States' world standing (politically, diplomatically, economically, and militaily) into the equivalence of being a mall cop.
    "Stop! Or I will tell you to stop again!"
    Examples:
    – The botch in Syria
    – China taking over the Pacific and ruffing up our former allies
    – spending millions to support terrorist-backers in Egypt during the 2013 Obama Sequestor
    – having allies scoff at us for the NSA spying
    – screw the attack on Beghazi, got to hit Vegas and campaign!

    However rest assure that Obama has US citizens well being at heart as he authorized the FDA millions to educated Mexican citizens on how to get food stamps after they illegally cross the boarder and illegally take residence in the US.

    March 2, 2014 07:26 am at 7:26 am |
  11. jimstaro

    Really??
    The so called GOP is gonna chime in!
    Putin, who has been becoming a darling of many of those so called conservative right within our borders, is doing exactly what they did, including the rubber stamping by the Russian parliament, that's what they do and always have and the type of government the GOP wants here! Invading, all costs for covered, preemptive strikes, you name it it's what republicans do and did when in total control, even using private merc army and probably off the books so the Russian people don't know the monetary costs of!!

    USN All Shore '67-'71 GMG3 Vietnam In Country '70-'71

    March 2, 2014 07:26 am at 7:26 am |
  12. JAKE

    Of course Obama will act, just as soon as the weather clears up he will go golfing. Take that Putin!!

    March 2, 2014 07:29 am at 7:29 am |
  13. not sure

    Not sure what the US can do – on this. Also do we know who these people are that are overthrowing the Ukraine government? I dont think so- Wasn't the Ukraine president elected in a legitimate election? I thinks so- If the Russians have encroached, into the politics of Ukraine and in essence 'taken over'- and that's what caused this overthrow/rebellion , why would they act so rash when they know the Russians would move in and crush the uprising? Is this Occupy Wall street a la Ukraine- or is this Poland in 1980s ??? Which one is it- this is the bottom line question, that needs to be the foundation of US Policy.

    March 2, 2014 07:30 am at 7:30 am |
  14. Chris

    And if Obama was to act on Ukraine then Republicans would turn around and attack Obama for rushing into things and demanding that he needs to get Congressional approval first before he does anything.

    Republicans sole consistency is that whatever Obama does – they'll attack him for it.

    March 2, 2014 07:31 am at 7:31 am |
  15. hgoodman

    Where is the line to sign up to fight? Just as I thought. No congressional son or daughters

    March 2, 2014 07:32 am at 7:32 am |
  16. longtooth

    It's time for us to invade Iraq again, so the world will see that we mean what we say, even if we don't know what we're talking about.

    March 2, 2014 07:35 am at 7:35 am |
  17. Alan

    Let's ask Sarah Palin. She'll know what to do!

    March 2, 2014 07:37 am at 7:37 am |
  18. 1onenation

    Here we go, lets jump right into another conflict without a plan or strategy. When will these fools learn? How will we pay for "doing something", how many troops will be involved with "doing something", will the chicken hawks enlist in our military so we can "do something". Come on what's the plan? What are your ideas? If you don't have a well thought out response and plan, then we should do nothing!

    March 2, 2014 07:39 am at 7:39 am |
  19. DrDanno

    Obama SHOULD act. He should outfit every Republican Senator, Representative and Governor, and their children, with some camo, a rifle, lousy pay and crap health care if they survive and ship them all over there to fight the war they so desperately want.

    March 2, 2014 07:40 am at 7:40 am |
  20. John

    "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."

    We agree. What are those costs Mr. President (other than having to be bored to tears by having to listen to you for 90 minutes?

    March 2, 2014 07:40 am at 7:40 am |
  21. rogercottonsr

    Europe has four times the poplulation of Russia. Ukraine is considered part of Europe. Sounds like more of a European problem than an American one. Let Europe confront Putin and Russia. America needs to feed it's millions of poor and elderly and rebuild our crumbling infrastructure rather than squandering anymore blood an treasure on foreign political squabbles.

    March 2, 2014 07:43 am at 7:43 am |
  22. Not James

    Maybe we should invade cuba till they leave crimea and establish a military base there....oh, wait, .....

    March 2, 2014 07:43 am at 7:43 am |
  23. notfallingforclaptrap

    Republicans want a new boogey man to justify the return of a spiraling military budget. They want a new 1980s style colf war that ushered in the likes of the military spending 1000+ on toilet seats. They are setting up 2016 for a new Reagan era style myth and lie regime. Very transparent yet their followship will fail to see through the veil as usual.

    March 2, 2014 07:47 am at 7:47 am |
  24. stanton allaben

    I swear John McCain wants a new war....with anyone. He isn't happy unless his rusty sword is making a lot of noise. I think the President should send a brigade of Republicans to face Putin.

    March 2, 2014 07:47 am at 7:47 am |
  25. rogercottonsr

    The European Union has four times the population of Russia. Ukraine is a European problem, not an American one. We need to feed our own millions of hungry and elderly and re-build our nation's crumbling infrastructure, roads, highways, bridges and schools etc. Time for Germany, France and Britain etc. to step up and tame the Russian bear. We need to stay out of all wars for at least 20 years. Enough is enough already!

    March 2, 2014 07:48 am at 7:48 am |
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