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.
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"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.
If there is a weakness in our Country that Putin is going to exploit, it is the divided nature of our government.
With every international situation, the republicans outdo each other to see who can be first to criticize our President, no matter whether they have a clue about what is going on. It becomes much worse near a weekend, as all the media-loving jerks like mccain want to get in front of the cameras on the Sunday morning talk shows.
Thankfully, we have a level-headed President, not some knee-jerk clown like mccain.
McCain is always ready to go to war...now is the time for patience to see how the situation plays out. It's not time for World War III. What are we going to do, send in our troops? Ridiculous.
Note to GPO – Thanks for the advice, but the adults have this one.
Remember ; Ukarain is the next step after Georgia, Baltic Republics will follow
Bunch of sideline quarterbacks. Have some more pizza and beer.
just press the restart button
Now the Republicans want to get involved in military action overseas? Lucky for the Ukrainians, they're not brown.
Anybody who wants to put boots on the ground in the Crimea should report to the front.
I expects the Republicans will advocate a military intervention as long as it's someone else or someone else's kids who pay the ultimate price.
Yes, what costs can the US impose on Russia? Refuse to trade dollars for rubles? Refuse to buy vodka? We've seen this before, many US politicians don't understand that their authority stops at our borders. Russians didn't elect them so there's no reason to expect Russians to pay any attention to anything they say. Now if the GOP wants us to intervene militarily in the Ukraine I suppose we could do that.
What is everybody so up in arms about? Why shouldn't Russia be allowed to just invade whoever they want to invade? The lefties in here sure think so. Besides, Russia knows what is best for the Ukrainians. Putin is now implementing the new Putincare plan on them. It doesn't matter that most of them don't want it, Putin knows better what is best for them. Obamacare, Putincare, no difference. Both tyranny of the left.
I find this response somewhat ironic remembering Syria. The moment anything remotely controversial is suggested as action – that is to say, basically any action at all – watch them draw back these complaints sharply to the other direction.
By the way, I'm not saying that's a factor of the GOP – I say that's a factor of any weak-minded member of the current two party political minority, whatever party that may be. Pretty sick and tired of politicians exploiting these events to thrash their opponents instead of working constructively to help solve them.
Putin is playing hard ball...unfortunately, he has all the balls, all the bats and the game's on his field! Goodbye Ukraine!!
I'd prefer if Obama acted by sitting on his hands. This isn't a U.S. issue.
lets "do something"... sorry we spent all our money wasting time in iraq looking for WMD. sorry the american people are sick of non stop unpaid for wars. the republicans just voted against the veterans assistance package in the senate saying we could not afford it.. but yet they will send those same veterans who are already stretched to the limit off on another war to die. if we cant afford to take care of the people who die for these wars we seem to think we have to keep getting into then we have no business fighting another war. let europe worry about it if its such a crisis. how much more of our tax payer money are we going to throw to the wind in yet some other so called revolution / civil war.
McCain would be the first in line to be pro US intervention to any country, as he was before.
The GOP right wingers should stop playing politic in this difficult moment for Ukraine's people. I bet you if president Obama decided to go tough on Russia , they ll turn around and accuse him on taking the country in the wrong direction . So give the man a break
Be wary, Mr. President, of warmongers trying to push you intoanother war. Remember that you're the Commander in Chief, not them.
Might as well do what the warmonger McCain really wants and launch the missiles now. Then Jesus can return this week.
Obama should send all Republicans to the Ukraine.
There is a time for lower elected officials to be quiet publicly, and this is one of those times. The president was elected to make these important decisions, not sore loser John McCain, or the right wing, do anything to get elected kooks. Our President, Barack Obama has this responsibility. GET OVER IT, and STAND BEHIND OUR PRESIDENT! This is not a time for Fox News type grandstanding and cheap stunts!
Loving how these GOP leaders all sit behind their desks and demand action.. they'll sign some paperwork declaring war and then they sit back and watch it unfold while thousands of people die.. what a bunch of jokers!
The right once again is running it's mouth and critizing the President, yet not one has suggested what actually should be done. Come on, if you are going to complain at least tell us what you would do instead of running your mouths as usual. Don't condemn the President for actions you can't come up with! This is not the time for political rhethoric by the right. This is not a small non-powerful country. We need to make sure the decision that will be made is the right one, becuase it will affect each and everyone of us and the rest of the civilized world.
I call on my fellow UBER PATRIOTS, Ted Nugent and Sarah Palin, to lead an armed expeditionary force of like minded freedom loving, demoRAT hating heroes, to fight shoulder to shoulder with the Ukrainians against the russki invaders.
(Putin/Obama) requested and received unanimous approval from (Russia's/Democrat controlled ) (upper house of Parliament/Congress) to (send Russian military forces into Crimea/take over one sixth of our economy) to (normalize the political situation there/make everthing fair).
(Putin/Obama) cited the ("extraordinary situation in Ukraine"/"extraordinary situation in healthcare") in making his request, adding that the lives of (Russian/American) citizens and military personnel had been threatened.
Obama can do nothing – and neither can the republicans. Putin is unstoppable. Russia does have a legitimate claim to Crimea, and Crimea will become Russian by the end of March, 2014.
What does McCain want Obama to do – send marines to Crimea? Does he want a direct confrontation with Russia? Does he want a nuclear war?