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

    Republicans need stop their efforts to divide the people of our nation in this situation. The Ukrainian and Russian situation has the real potential to become an exchange of nuclear weapons. Any movement by the U.S. and the E.U. must be considered very carefully before taking action, The results could be catastrophic and have a long lasting ripple effect throughout the world. U.S. citizens and the government need to be as united on this issue as we can possibly be. Yes, that means taking off the partisan blinders on all side for a short while. This situation can get horrifying in the blink of an eye. Proceed with caution.

    March 2, 2014 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  2. Transcender

    I'm sick of Republicans ALWAYS setting up a drama scene – no matter what the President does or says, they want to take the opposite action – just to be opposed 100% all the time. If he had sent troops over there, the Repubs would've screamed about it. He is being cautious – as he should be – because these are our daughters and sons that would be sent over. They are NOT numbers on a page, or pawns on a chess board. They are our children! If the Repugs want to start a war, then they can send their own children.

    March 2, 2014 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  3. gkam

    Where are all those right-wing "patriots" who need these mass killings? They did not get enough in Iraq. They wanted more in Syria and every other place.

    Send THEM!.

    March 2, 2014 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  4. T. Kozubal

    We need to establish a republican military branch in our armed forces. Put McCain in as a one-star general followed by Cotton, Corker, Rubio, Palin (for good measure) along with Rubio and Romney. Give them weapons, put them on a plane, and send them to the Crimea to defend our financial holdings in the area. Make sure they get the humvees without any armor in the side panels or flooring. Establish a new insignia patch for their uniforms consisting of an elephant thrashing about in piles of currency. And, you must be a republican to join that special forces unit.
    Putin has always needed an access to the seas in the south, and he doesn't want to give up the bases he has established in the Crimea. You wouldn't either if you were him. Wasn't that clever of Putin to send in military with no insignias on any of the war personnel and equipment. But, we need to identify our republican guard so that their wealth will protect them.
    Foreign policy of current administration: PEACE at all cost. What's wrong with that?
    It's time to dig out those thousands of tanks in the northern desert of California and put John Boehner in charge of that unit. We need someone who is intimately aware of their capabilities to run that unit.
    The Ukraine will slowly work through their political problems. In the meantime, do you know anyone who wants to buy a palace and party boat for a few billion rubles? Romney? Koch Brothers? We need some volunteers.

    March 2, 2014 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  5. T. Kozubal

    Oh. That's a nice picture of a Jeep with a sunroof and side opera windows. When will that hit the local markets?

    March 2, 2014 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  6. JW

    I thought we were supposed to support the president during tough times. Isn't that what Bush supporters used to say, "trust our leader?" Not now, huh? So hungry for war their mouths are watering, the GOP are, and, of course, using real life tragedies to try and make themselves look tough politically. This isn't Iraq, chickenhawks. This country has nukes. Simmer down and let the educated people who aren't hoping for the end of the world to come soon so they can meet Christ handle things... People who don't think giant mushroom clouds over cities might have a silver lining.

    March 2, 2014 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  7. Neutral Observer

    This is the real damage of all the major bumbling this admin has done in the past. You might think things like bengazi and Egypt and Syria were all isolated incidents, the fact is that Putin (and also the Chinese) see these things and now we are in this mess

    March 2, 2014 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  8. NameCraig

    The one time I agree with Obama. Don't keep pressure on Russia we can't afford them turning against us. We in America fought the French then England for our freedom, it cost us many young and old men as well as women. With little help from anyone. It's a hard thing for liberals to understand! The fact that freedom cost lives, It's not like ww2 where if we stayed neutral our country would have been attacked, we had to act. I'm sorry Ukrain I feel for you but am not willing to send my grandkids to war for you

    March 2, 2014 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
  9. NameFrank Deery

    Obama brought this on himself, with a namby bamby foreign policy, which began in
    Benghazi and led to Syria, where Putin looked better. And he, typical Russian autocrat, is now playing his trump card in Crimea, knowing Obama will do nothing!
    Threatening to avoid some useless G8 meeting, liberal media, is Not worrying Putin!

    Democrats, who gave US Obama, but will soon go the way of Pelosi, beware! Way
    tooooo many
    Screw-ups to trust them! Health care IS a
    horror for 6 million plus, Harry Reid, they vote!
    If Ukraine goes Russian, America goes Republican-both years.

    March 2, 2014 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  10. pat carr

    Here goes the GOP again spouting off. The same people that complain of "big government", "wasteful spending", blah blah blah., I look forward to the day that they are a minor party if they still even exist

    March 2, 2014 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  11. Murad Yunus

    Do you call this is Democracy ??

    March 2, 2014 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  12. AM:Radio Inc.

    President Obama, Should Call Out The Republican Senate & Republican House..

    He Should Say..

    "You Want A War With Syria [?] Put it To A Vote"

    You Want War With Iran, [?] Lets Put it To A Vote"

    "You Want War With Russia [?] With The 2nd Largest Nuclear Arsenal Under America [?] Put It To A Vote"

    I Want The Entire Free World & American Voters, To See Those Who Voted For War & To Remember You 2014-2016

    March 2, 2014 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  13. rs

    When the GOP gets as seriously about leading in America and solving problems here as they claim to be about the Ukraine, I'll believe they are sincere in intervening. Until then, this is just using world events to play their anti-government game.

    March 2, 2014 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  14. Anonymous

    Republicans declare war or shut up

    March 2, 2014 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  15. Gurgyl

    This president is darn smarter than this current GOP garbage.

    March 2, 2014 06:34 pm at 6:34 pm |
  16. Mark

    The timing of our response is critical. Putin is beginning to understand what is at stake. If the U.S. reacts prematurely, we will lose all leverage. And Putin will have no reason not to pull back, since they will have already incurred our sanctions and all that we can hurl at him.

    March 2, 2014 07:00 pm at 7:00 pm |
  17. tom l

    To all of the liberals on here complaining about repubs and the US not needing another war should probably at least acknowledge that Obama said that there would be "costs" for an incursion into the Ukraine. It was Obama, not the repubs, that told the works that there would be "costs"

    March 2, 2014 07:24 pm at 7:24 pm |
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