Republicans call on Obama to act on Ukraine
March 1st, 2014
04:40 PM ET
8 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. Fred Jones

    Funny a bunch of Vietnam era draft dodgers who threw Bob Dole under the bus trying to dictate foreign policy when they have no power.

    March 2, 2014 09:30 am at 9:30 am |
  2. Yurij Anon

    Viktor Yanukovych is our leader, duly elected. If western Ukraine wants to split off, fine. but don't make the rest of us suffer with the EU financial troubles.
    Eastern Ukranians want to be with Russia.
    We do not recognize the coup!
    Have another general election! Mind your own business USA, unless Turchynov starts killing people. Split the country along the DNIEPER!

    March 2, 2014 09:33 am at 9:33 am |
  3. Max

    I agree with the GOP. Obama should act to send all those yapping chowderheads directly to the front line.

    March 2, 2014 09:36 am at 9:36 am |
  4. Wheels

    If we can invade Iraq, Afghanistan, and contemplate action in Syria, why can't Russia invade Ukraine? I'm certainly not in favor of military action, but I'm even less of a fan of our political hypocrisy. We can intervene on another country's issues when we feel like it's in our best interest but other countries can't? Maddening, all of it.

    March 2, 2014 09:38 am at 9:38 am |
  5. Pete

    Remember people also who has investments in the corporations behind the MICs movements supporting war,your supposid chicken hawk conservatives ,that's who....

    March 2, 2014 09:41 am at 9:41 am |
  6. Lost

    ...still weary of these crises that escalate into war...Pres. should enforce talks on Ukraine gov't bending to the will of the people....volatile US action in Ukraine will translate to increased offensive reaction in the US...war is not the answer....avert at all costs...

    March 2, 2014 09:47 am at 9:47 am |
  7. vic

    The right wants another war? All we hear is the President must take action. What action can be taken to persuade Russia to pull back? Sanctions are a joke. Freezing assets? Like that's going to make them reconsider. Not going to the G8? Oh my goodness. The best thing to do is have an international response to this incident.

    March 2, 2014 09:47 am at 9:47 am |
  8. Saboth

    Of course Republicans want us to get involved in another war. They've spent years building good relations with defense contractors, and they aren't pulling in the $$ like they used to. Also, they want the military to get involved to prove we need to have a military bigger than the next 10 nations combined. Obama's managed to keep us out of needless conflicts so far, and this situation in Russia is none of our business. We simply don't have the $ to be the world police anymore, or would Republicans like to get us in another 1 trillion war, then to turn around in a few years and complain about how "Obama's spending our grandkid's money".

    March 2, 2014 09:48 am at 9:48 am |
  9. skdowd

    I'd like McCain to spell out exactly what he has in mind. It would be an interesting read, I'm sure. Real world, it would not be.

    March 2, 2014 09:50 am at 9:50 am |
  10. Keith Robinette

    Readers are missing the facts. Crimea was owned by Russia until 1954. Its a vast majority Russian speaking (85%) region. What ever happens there is not our business. Just like the US , there are joint agreements in place between them and Russia.

    It's not our fight. Ukraine's president ( however bad) was democratically elected. Purged from office by small group of opposition that do not represent the wishes of majority. What right do we have to do anything?

    It might add to the "fight" mentality of some, but that's in Russia's back door.

    March 2, 2014 09:51 am at 9:51 am |
  11. Anonymous

    Start up the draft, the GOP wants war again. This time in Russia.

    The Ukraine is Russia's problem, not ours.

    March 2, 2014 09:51 am at 9:51 am |
  12. MIke C

    :et's remember the facts and the facts are that War World II happened under an inactive u.s president Roosevelt. Democrat Kennedy got us in Vietnam and a Republican president Nixon got us out. Nixon also fermented and improce relations with communist China. Democratic president Carter gave us the Iran hostage crisis which gave rise to the Islamic war we are still fighting and Republican Reagan got us out of the hostage crisis. Not only that, Reagan also got us out of the cold war and turned down the Berlin Wall which gave freedom to millions. Inactive Clinton did nothing against Osama Bin Landen and we paid for it on 911 and again a Republican president gad to go out after yet another crazy guy due Democratic presidents inaction.

    March 2, 2014 09:52 am at 9:52 am |
  13. skdowd

    I think McCain has lost it, maybe years ago. He would not have ordered a strike to get Bin Laden, but he would bite this Russian Bear in the @55. Well, John, thank you for your service, but if we do bite the Bear on the @55, we had better have a plan for dealing with its teeth.

    March 2, 2014 09:54 am at 9:54 am |
  14. budwhite451

    I guess his advice is like helping the little lady who didn't get her Social Security.

    March 2, 2014 09:54 am at 9:54 am |
  15. retired but still serving

    Oh yea the GOP just blocked a bill for veterens and active duty. Now they want to send these men and women into the Ukraine. A member of the Senate Armed Services and Senate Foreign Relations Committee, McCain has thrown his commrads in arms under the bus. He gets as much respect from retirees and active duty as Jane Fonda.
    We have no intrest in the Ukraine and should keep our boots out of it.Our soldiers are streched thin enough.

    March 2, 2014 09:56 am at 9:56 am |
  16. thaddius

    Translation: Obama, please start World War 3 so we can have a real point to criticize you on, instead of blabbing on about non-scandals like Benghazi and the IRS,

    March 2, 2014 09:58 am at 9:58 am |
  17. mcp123

    "The republicans did, in fact, propose a number of things that the President should have done already"

    WOW...and all those things are just so harsh! NOT. It is better to leave the Russians guessing... they already know there will be consequences. Russians are most interested in the Crimea not necessarily the rest of Ukraine.

    March 2, 2014 10:00 am at 10:00 am |
  18. mcp123

    "The Russians probably delivered mini subs or worse yet, portable nukes"

    Yeah... not... it was just to send a message that they can base a ship and still have an ally in Cuba.

    March 2, 2014 10:02 am at 10:02 am |
  19. jennifer. houston

    Send in troops? NO. Not one drop of American blood needs to be shed. Sanctions won't work either.. Putin will just turn off the oil and gas spigot and prices will go sky high. It's time for people like Mc Cain to start thinking critically.. The US cannot go around the world like a school yard bully, eventually people strike back.

    March 2, 2014 10:02 am at 10:02 am |
  20. Casey

    As usual the GOP is loudly calling for war with the lives of our nations poor's sons and daughters. Instead of funding colleges they'd rather fund war.

    March 2, 2014 10:02 am at 10:02 am |
  21. nonyabidnes2

    Politics aside we don't need to involve ourselves in another war. We have war on our own front that need desperately need to be resolved, ie; war on poverty, war on the middle class. While it's sad that others must suffer, we in America have enough on our plate. I wish that the President has enough "juice" to tell the parliament (congress) what he wants and gets it the same day, no dithering around. I long for the days when a yes meant YES! and a no meant NO!. Dam all the political leanings, we are AMERICAN'S.

    March 2, 2014 10:03 am at 10:03 am |
  22. jboh

    I remember McCain calling for intervention when Russia moved into Georgia under Bush. No TEA/GOP outrage then. If TEA/GOP chickenhawks had their way, we would already be at war in Iran, Syria, Georgia, and now the Ukraine. Where else do they want to send someone else's kids to die?

    March 2, 2014 10:07 am at 10:07 am |
  23. Richard

    It's simple. This is none of our business. It should not cost US citizens a dime.

    March 2, 2014 10:07 am at 10:07 am |
  24. jennifer. houston

    And Mike.. you seem to forget that in spite of the fact that the Clinton administration warned of the danger of Bin laden Georgie boy failed to act too. Ronald reagan probably did more to de-stabilize the world than anyone.. A crazy arms race that damaged our economy, caused the implosion of the Soviet union setting the stage for internecine wars. Then George Bush put the finally straw on our economy with 2 reckless wars and a tax cut.

    March 2, 2014 10:08 am at 10:08 am |
  25. Mike

    Send over Sarah Palin. She'll know how to resolve this situation. She predicted it.

    March 2, 2014 10:09 am at 10:09 am |
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