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.
So, the GOP are actually saying we should go to war with Russia, REALLY?
Crimea isn't really part of Ukraine anyway. Khrushchev gave it to them and now Putin wants it back. So be it.
After the UK-US invasion of Iraq over Russian and Chinese objections, Cameron and Obama have no basis to even criticise Russia, let alone intervene. Oh the irony. . . .
Despite a flurry of activity Saturday in Washington, including a confab of the President's national security team – Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey, and CIA Director John Brennan to discuss potential policy options – the White House remained mum on how the United States intended to respond to the situation.
A senior administration official says that President Obama was not at the meeting but has been briefed on the latest developments in Ukraine by National Security Adviser Susan Rice.
Not surprising he didn't care enough to attend. Our embassy was under attack in Benghazi and our ambassador and 3 others killed and he went to bed to rest up for his campaign fund raiser the next day in Las Vegas. I don't know why this clown ever ran for President, other than for the photo ops and celebrity events. Doing the actual real work of the office just doesn't interest him. No wonder Putin thinks he can just invade other countries at will.
Look at the headline, they are already trying to defend their hero by blaming the situation on the GOP. Sure they love war as much as the next guy, but the President made the threat. Why can't we just stay out of crap once n a while?
Are you ready to put the, leap befor you think, repubs back in charge. McCain, Corker, sounds like they are ready to nuclear before they even know what is happening. There is a history and a nationality in Crimea and the repubs should get some learning in before they jump.
People are starting to realize how powerless the USA is these days. Why should russia care what USA says? Keep to your own business.
The American Right is, apparently, intent on joining with America's adversaries in opposing the President.
After our Syrian fiasco and the on-going Iranian circus I don't believe we have any credible cards to play in the Ukraine. really, the big question now is who will Putin go after next?
This is not the time for GOP grandstanding. This is a very dangerous situation. Typical nonsense coming out of McCain pie hole. Nothing but a war monger.
How about we send the Tea Party to Kiev? You know, give them plenty of guns, and some cowboy hats. Put Cruz in charge. It works for me!
Is there anywhere on the planet that Republicans *don't* want us to go to war? Is there any Republican with a mind broad enough to recognize that this is not Cold War II?
McCain would have had us in at least eight wars by now.
Typical. How about the GOP do something like, I don't know, UNITE behind their Commander in Chief and their Nation, rather than chip away at the US forefront like a bunch of mongrel dogs?
GOP lawmakers insist on some action but don't say what form that action should take. So brave, so decisive. Glad they're not in charge.
Is this an attempt at world domination by the Russians?.......NO .Are thousands of people being massacred?..........NO .Is this a direct or even an indirect threat to the U.S.?........NO Then stay the heck out of it . No need for military action.
Yes GOP... hop into another conflict where you all can make tons of $$ while creating more wounded vets you don't see the need to take care of... without compromise, that is. What a bunch of solid wastes they are.
This makes me laugh.
Putin schooled Obama in Syria where we had leverage, plenty of military options and international support for action.
In Ukraine, we have none of those. GOP is laying a trap for Obama.
OOOHHHH. Obama issues a threat to Russia. What a joke. After the weakness he showed with Syria Russia will not be shaking in their boots.
Wait a minute, Bush WAS the most incompetent, inept, corrupt president in history... AND he took more vacations than any president ever. Oh, and he certainly knows how to start wars without finishing nor paying for them.
An international, unified response to Russia's actions would be as far as I would go. There's no point in starting another war.
The GOP should also state what actions they would like to have taken against Russia. Please keep in mind the uses of force that the USA has justified and Russia's previous reactions.
Good thing Bush is out of office or we would already be ramping up for the invasion. I agree with RS, it's a global situation so get the appropriate parties involved...none lone wolf action.
And if the GOP still wants firmer action, they can send over the hordes of freedom loving, responsible gun owning, NRA members, who are so well skilled and equiped to defend against "bad guys with guns".
What do the yap flappers want Obama to do.
Lets her some solutions.
Whining and sniveling doesn't help.
Start aaanother war with someone who can fight back?
There is very little US/EU can do to stop Putin even if he annexes other Ukrainian territories and cities such as Kharkov.
They can only beg and warn that he stops with Crimea. But in 30-40 years, as the world gets off oil addiction and switches to solar/hydrogen energy, many of the Russian passports which are handed out now, would be flowing in toilets.