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. Forever Unstained

    The Republicans are proving themselves, rhetorically at least, to be unfit to govern. At this point, a U.S. president has basically four options as regards the Ukraine:

    1. Do absolutely nothing.
    2. Tut-tut loudly and do nothing.
    3. Impose economic sanctions, which are basically a slap on the wrist anyway.
    4. Start World War III, which ends in mutually assured destruction.

    The U.S. can't simply leap in and pummel Russia militarily. I don't doubt that American forces could ultimately defeat Russian ones in a conventional war, but see no purpose in expending millions of lives. Furthermore, the presence of nuclear weapons means there is no alternative to peace between the two superpowers (which is probably just as well, since it keeps the Putins of the world slightly honester than they would be).

    So, Mr. Obama thus far has done #2 - tut-tutting loudly - and might do #3. Since I doubt that he's a suicidal maniac who wants to kill everything on Earth, he will not opt for #4. Nor is it in any way discreditable to him to refuse to choose #4, nor is it a choice that any remotely sane leader would make. Calling him the most "corrupt, incompetent, inept president in history" because he refuses to trigger nuclear war over the Crimea is both grossly unfair and, frankly, crazy.

    I've been in the Ukraine, and like the place. I like Ukrainian people. But starting a war over these local scuffles is so far beyond anything resembling sanity that I have to conclude the Republicans are just doing what they do best. Take something reasonable that Mr. Obama does and put a sound-bite spin on it that makes it sound bad, and push it out with frenzy, overlooking that it lacks all logic. Just trying to score cheap political points.

    March 1, 2014 06:10 pm at 6:10 pm |
  2. HMMM

    How many wars has McCain wanted to start? Iran, Iraq, Libya, now Russia. Thank GOD he was not elected president or we would all be dead already!

    March 1, 2014 06:11 pm at 6:11 pm |
  3. Amazed2

    A chorus of republican lawmakers......yuk.

    March 1, 2014 06:11 pm at 6:11 pm |
  4. Ted

    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 sewers.

    March 1, 2014 06:11 pm at 6:11 pm |
  5. snowdogg

    "Republican lawmakers urged President Barack Obama to take action"

    Why don't those Republicans pick up their AR-15's and catch the next flight to Ukraine?

    March 1, 2014 06:12 pm at 6:12 pm |
  6. idiotusmaximus

    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."........

    There they go again doing what they did to DUMB DUMB BUSH.......trying to rush him into a rush to act.....so they can say in a few months that Obama did the same thing Bush did in Iraq.......no one in their RIGHT MIND SHOULD EVER LISTEN to a BACKWARD RUNNING with their eyes closed CONSERVATIVE.

    March 1, 2014 06:12 pm at 6:12 pm |
  7. Bayousara

    Obama is doing just the right thing by saying there will be consequences. Then he sat back and soon the expected GOP started in on him. I think he is waiting for the GOP to realize Congress will have to decide what consequences there will be. That is their job.

    March 1, 2014 06:13 pm at 6:13 pm |
  8. Alex Greene

    McCain was photographed addressing a rally in Kyiv. Standing prominently beside him was a smiling Oleh Tyahnybok, leader of the ultra-nationalist, pro-fascist Svoboda opposition political party. Tyahnybok once called for the liberation of Ukraine from the “Muscovite-Jewish mafia” and has described Nazi death camp guard John Demjanjuk as a hero “fighting for truth.” - The Toronto Star

    March 1, 2014 06:14 pm at 6:14 pm |
  9. joe

    What a pantload. Obama has wanted a war since he was elected and now is hedging his bet by setting up the GOP to take the fall just in case. What a coward, failed POTUS!

    March 1, 2014 06:14 pm at 6:14 pm |
  10. Amazed2

    And behind closed doors the Republican Party cheers the Russian actions, praying for war and looking for any mud to sling towards our President in hopes of reviving their sinking party and cause problems for the black guy.... Good Luck Russia. Go for it! ~ GOP

    March 1, 2014 06:16 pm at 6:16 pm |
  11. Tom

    Really? Maybe McCain can go there and get shot down in a $35 MM aircraft.

    March 1, 2014 06:18 pm at 6:18 pm |
  12. Jordan

    hurry up and act so we can impeach you!

    March 1, 2014 06:19 pm at 6:19 pm |
  13. primatica

    I really don't care about a country two oceans away. Let them fight it out themselves.

    March 1, 2014 06:19 pm at 6:19 pm |
  14. Dave

    When something happens in another country and Obama says that we should stay out of it, the Mentally sub-par right wingers scream and cry that he's not doing anything. When something happens in another country and Obama does something the mentally sub-par right wingers scream and cry that we can't afford another war. Which is it? Or do you guys just take the exact opposite of everything he decides because that's all you can do? You guys are a joke.

    March 1, 2014 06:21 pm at 6:21 pm |
  15. vaseline

    vaseline, more vaseline

    March 1, 2014 06:21 pm at 6:21 pm |
  16. GarryOwen

    The Red Neck Right and their chicken hawks...invade, invade, invade.

    March 1, 2014 06:22 pm at 6:22 pm |
  17. Ron

    The Republicans cry, "do something!" But they don't even hint on what should be done. Do they want a bomb dropped on Russia, troops on the ground? What? Stop criticizing unless you have a plan!

    March 1, 2014 06:22 pm at 6:22 pm |
  18. Uz

    What didn't European Union do anything ? Why is it always in the burden of the United States to respond to any crisis in the world ?

    March 1, 2014 06:22 pm at 6:22 pm |
  19. Carol

    What does the GOP expect Pres. Obama to do? Declare war on Russia? Do they have any ideas at all? Nooooooooo

    March 1, 2014 06:23 pm at 6:23 pm |
  20. 2T

    If GOP wants war, I suggest they all and their families hop in a few fighters and go do it themselves.

    March 1, 2014 06:23 pm at 6:23 pm |
  21. Festivusfortherestofus

    Oh wow....John McCain is "deeply concerned" again. Why doesn't he remain in a "deeply concerned" state permanently or maybe he does

    March 1, 2014 06:24 pm at 6:24 pm |
  22. mch

    I'm soooo glad to see that the Republicans are not going to politicize a delicate and dangerous international situation this time. Even THEY finally understand that undercutting the POTUS with name calling at a moment like this is what truly weakens our position... what that? Wait! Oh well, same ol' Republican dopes.

    March 1, 2014 06:24 pm at 6:24 pm |
  23. candodan

    Haven't we had to deal with parts of our country before? Remember the Civil War. Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union?

    March 1, 2014 06:25 pm at 6:25 pm |
  24. NorCalMojo

    It's just John McCain.

    He wants to invade everyone. Most republicans know that starting a war with Russia is insane.

    March 1, 2014 06:25 pm at 6:25 pm |
  25. gary maynard

    The real question is what can the US do? Answer: Absolutely nothing. We are a long way from the Ukraine and because of the cuts in military spending, do not have the strength to project power that we once had. Yes, I do blame the Obama administration and Congress for that. They were the ones that let the sequester happen and refused to talk to each other to avoid it. So we are "up the creek without a paddle" and not immediate way out. So, Obama gets to talk tough, and can't do a damned thing about the Russians and Putin knows it.

    March 1, 2014 06:26 pm at 6:26 pm |
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