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

    Pleased to see our citizens are against a tangle with Russia. We are not the superheroes of the world who jump to defend every bad thing that happens.

    March 2, 2014 10:09 am at 10:09 am |
  2. Enough is Enough

    OK all of you on the progressive side....you won the election.....this is your opportunity to show us how this should be done. Then, when it all goes to hell.....the Republicans will bail you out again. The only thing that has been said here that I agree with is where is the mighty socialist EU? Once again the European socialists are showing what they are really made of. By the way – it seems that one of the progressives punching bags was right back in 2008. Sarah Pain suggested that this would happen....and you all laughed at how stupid she was.....perhaps you aren't quite as brilliant as you seem to think that you are. You are also the ones that told us how Obama was going to raise our standing in the world....how's that working out for ya?

    March 2, 2014 10:09 am at 10:09 am |
  3. PtBarnumBoy

    McCain keeps hoping to start a war we can win. He hasn't learned one damn thing since his stay in the Hanoi Hilton.

    March 2, 2014 10:10 am at 10:10 am |
  4. mike Holmes

    So Putin is doing what the GOP wanted Obama to do in Syria.

    March 2, 2014 10:10 am at 10:10 am |
  5. Peace

    Last I checked, Crimea is not a part of the USA. Why is it that McCain and the GOP are saying awful things about Obama for not acting? Thank God McCain is not in charge or he would scramble F14s and fill up the Black Sea with our Millitary. I want Obama' number 1 concern to be America and it is. Obama is not naive! He is doing a very good job! I support him. Shame on Cotton for painting Obama as a wimp. I am confident Obama is handling this correctly.

    March 2, 2014 10:16 am at 10:16 am |
  6. stixzidinia

    The Chicken Hawk Party wants to go back to war.

    March 2, 2014 10:18 am at 10:18 am |
  7. vernon

    these right wingers never saw a military action they couldn't spend on....where is the offset...see Mike C has the fox and fools world history hook on history tapes....

    March 2, 2014 10:20 am at 10:20 am |
  8. Farrok

    The GOP what a joke?

    They refused to pay for the wounded and injured Veterans of the current Wars and they are chomping at the bit to start another one? The GOP is Crazy.................

    March 2, 2014 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
  9. tonyb

    more GOP hogwash. McCain is a joke- retire already. Not the USA's fight- it's Russia's business. So GOP...given your crappy record on just about everything....focus on improving our economy at home instead of looking to obstruct.

    March 2, 2014 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  10. Robert Breisch

    Militarily Russia is no match for US military ability or technology but has the home field advantage and they are already on the ground.Right as we are getting rid of our best anti tank weapon the A10 Warthog-designed to take out Russian tanks and mobile artillery,and missile launchers-now would be a good time to put all of them into the paint hangar and paint them NATO Blue and move in sufficient NATO armor-and helos-backed by a limited number of NATO boots on the ground as a representation of the EU and USA response to our ally request for help.Putin is smart-hes not going to engage any NATO element period.
    This is a game of chess-Putin has the advantage of playing in his own backyard-we have the disadvantage of spreading our military out to too many locations.And the Warhawks in the GOP who want the military "boots" reduced are sending the signals to other anti Western countries that its time for you to invade anyone you want as we are now nearly bankrupt for all the wars the USA has jumped into, and with a drawdown of 100,000 combat troops-we cant respond fast enough to help any of our allies-without withdrawal from Afghanistan.
    A wise chess move for Obama would be to send in a small presence of a peace keeping force.Retake the main airport just by a massive airlift "convoy" of C5A,C7A transports filled with Abrams M1A2,Strykers,and a variety of other light to heavy armored vehicles that can be easily airlifted into place.Just by being there in a force protection role will deter Putin from an all out war. Its called Checkmate.

    March 2, 2014 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  11. FreedomStorm

    NOTHING shall deter the tyrant from his laser focus on his objective ... the destruction of America.

    March 2, 2014 10:24 am at 10:24 am |
  12. bcrunner

    Let's face it! The Republicans love war. There is no conflict small or big that they don't want to be a part of.

    That said, I think the president should just come out and ask for authorization from congress to send troops to Ukraine. Let's see how quickly the Republicans change their minds and all of a sudden ALL of them!! well... maybe except McCain and Graham... and including all you on this page who are calling the president weak and ineffective...

    March 2, 2014 10:24 am at 10:24 am |
  13. bcrunner

    Oh.. and, by the way, the president should ask congress to raise taxes on the wealthy to pay for the war.... That would be even better. All talk about going to war will cease immediately...

    March 2, 2014 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  14. Paul P. Valtos

    As someone said, would John Mc Cain tell the American People what exactly does he expect Obama to do? Maybe the Ukrainians and Putin are concealing WMD"s Where did these goofy people come from and why would the sane Republicans not disavow their statements. I'm an Eisenhower Republican and this insanity would never have been allowed in the Grand Old party. maybe Glenn Beck could give us some insider info the reason why such statements are being made by loose cannons.We cannot afford another Iraq let alone a war over the Ukraine.

    March 2, 2014 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  15. John

    The Republicans just voted down legislation to help veterans and tried to screw military retirees but now they want to start a war with Russia the largest country in the world with a large modern army and airforse plus nuclear weapons and great natural resources. All for war just send all the Republicans and their families first, start the draft back up.

    March 2, 2014 10:29 am at 10:29 am |
  16. David

    Let me ask the GOP one simple question: Do you think we should now send our exhausted and depleted military to directly engage in a war with Russia? Americans should remember that we have exhausted our military, in large part because of a meaningless 10 year debacle in Iraq. Dear GOP, stop playing politics with the safety of the entire world.

    March 2, 2014 10:29 am at 10:29 am |
  17. Anonymous

    "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?"

    A lot easier declaring war from their couches than actually signing up and going to where the fighting is. All the Putin supporters here in America have a choice: they can sign up and defend their talk. Otherwise they do nothing but embolden Putin, which given his ego, relishes their talking points; propaganda being his mainstay in Russia.

    March 2, 2014 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
  18. MMCinMPLS

    As usual, McCain leads the drum roll of intervention, he would only be happy if we dropped bombs somewhere. Of course Russia will protect Crimea, 60% of its residents speak Russian, they have a Naval Base on the Black Sea in Crimea, with a lease until 2042, not much different from the many (read dozens) of bases we have around the world, all of which we would protect if necessary. Finally, there is nothing we can do, nor should we, this is just more opportunity for idiots like McCain to posture and thump their chests. He's like an old ballplayer, knows only 1 thing, and won't retire.

    March 2, 2014 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
  19. johnk

    McCain is a fool for taking this course of a comment! It was a gift he was never elected President. What a irresponsible comment he is making in this matter.

    March 2, 2014 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  20. realoldguy

    When it comes to government spending conservatives whine "What about my taxes?" - except when it comes to war-making (usually in places nobodyhas ever heard of) and, of course, building more prisons. How Republicans love their wars and prisons! Then the money to pay for things just appears, as if by magic!

    March 2, 2014 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  21. David H.

    Hey McCain shutup & go play some more internet poker!

    March 2, 2014 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  22. oharris30

    THis is not our war and we need to stay out of this and remember that Russia also has nuclear powers. putin is a thug. it is no telling what he will do. he may just like McCain want a ww!!!. Why do we have to go to the aid of every country that is fighting? we are not going to stop countries from fighting . it is for the Ukraine to handle this. as for Rubio, Corker, McCain and all the rest of the warmongering repubs they have not mentioned as usual one thing they would do. but they can continue condemning the president who they claim is inactive. well so are the other European countries. This is a time for calm heads and not the repubs who could care less about other young americans dying. or putting our country at risk for a full scale nuclear war. Thank you president Obama for not going thug like putin.

    March 2, 2014 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  23. Robert Breisch

    Enough is Enough-
    Thanks for your amusing comments-The GOP wanted a full military intervention in Syria but lost out, the GOP initiated the full support for the terror group called Al-Qaeda ( under Bush Sr as Director of the CIA and Donald Rumsfeld under a GOP president) funding Usama bin Laden,The Mujaheddin, and the Taliban! Bush Jr even tried to bribe the Taliban with $1billion and we all know how that worked out! Thats shows hoe "smart" the GOP is as a party politically-just give the terrorist a Billion tax dollars to stop the aggression!
    My point is-rather than thinking us Liberals and Democrats need to fix everything the GOP and its support groups screw up-and that the GOP will bail us out-you and all the other GOP-ers need to pull your heads out of the Kitty Litter box and work with the President to address this and help our ally in Ukraine defend itself without starting another failed war in the region! Thanks to the GOP under 2 presidencies we are still in Iraq and Afghanistan! Thank you so much for "saving us". Next time you see a Vet in fatigues-go apologize to them for sending them in to clean up a GOP funded terrorist group and 2 gop funded wars-both of which we lost! Bravo to the GOP!
    God Bless us all cause the GOP is the Devil in disguise!

    March 2, 2014 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  24. The HAM

    The Repubs are wrong on this one... Obama is past having any real pull with Russia

    Putin is playing Chess... Obama is playing Marbles...

    Obama is way out matched and should leave this alone... Putin has no respect for Obama let alone fear... it's a no win

    March 2, 2014 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  25. Chris-E...al

    We are all be repubs one day soon. you just dont kn0w it yet .

    March 2, 2014 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
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