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

    The republicans always want war, so they can borrow trillions of dollars, then complain about debt, say it was the little poor children who caused the debt, then cut their food stamps, and milk formula for babies. They should all take off their shoe and beat their shoe on the table, like Nikita did. Putin better back off, it's not the USSR, it's only Russia. Russia is not the superpower that the USSR was. Russia is a one basket economy, better watch the price of oil over the next few weeks. A minor incident like this could cause the price of gas at the pump to double overnight. Oil is a World commodity, and we don't have refineries, so any little thing could cause a huge crisis in the US. If we had good planning we could just switch over to alternative now. The reaction to this should be trillions into alternatives, not trillions into another war.

    March 1, 2014 06:26 pm at 6:26 pm |
  2. Dave

    GOP just wants a reason to continuing cold war era military equipment to keep their defense contractors/political contributors in business. Let the UN do its job for once!

    March 1, 2014 06:27 pm at 6:27 pm |
  3. rad666

    Obama is a hoot. Just like Palin.

    Obama just recently gave Putin $1 BILLION for helicopters to send to Afghan security forces.

    March 1, 2014 06:27 pm at 6:27 pm |
  4. Film Actors Guild PR Department.

    Breaking news: President Obama contacted Russian President Vladimir Putin today.
    The reason for their talk were Russia's blatant copyright violations of the terms "World" "Police"
    President Obama informed his Russian counterpart that if these violations continue he will sternly wag his finger at him.

    March 1, 2014 06:28 pm at 6:28 pm |
  5. Cricket666

    Obama is way ahead of the GOP losers, especially the prime loser McCain.

    March 1, 2014 06:29 pm at 6:29 pm |
  6. Marie MD

    are these teaklans going to go fight this war themselves?
    Let NATO and the UN do their job.
    "Emboldened" does this idiot know what the word means? I rather have a president who thinks twice before he shoots than a bunch of hawks who think they know better!

    March 1, 2014 06:30 pm at 6:30 pm |
  7. Liz the First

    I think we need to chill on Ukraine and Crimea. if Crimea wants to be an independent state in alliance with Russia, let it! it's not worth starting another cold war over what those folks want. Crimea has been an autonomous region for a long time. if they want to split, let them!

    March 1, 2014 06:30 pm at 6:30 pm |
  8. so much for honesty

    We all they are itching for another war to make their best friends, money mongers in the defense industry happy.

    March 1, 2014 06:30 pm at 6:30 pm |
  9. John F.

    rs, they DON'T care about Ukraine, just as they don't care about Syria, just as deep down they don't really care that people died at Benghazi, just as for the better part of the 2000s they huffed and puffed about "Who cares what the rest of the world thinks?" when they were unjustly destroying Iraq. They only care about piling on Obama. As StuffIt demonstrates, they like to cry that everyone is blaming Bush, when in reality all they're good for these days is casting blame on everything and everyone who isn't them. They don't have any real solution to the problem, just as they don't have any real solutions for most of the nation's problems other than to ask What Would Reagan Do. So as you say, they're making noise and just making everything worse, which is all they know how to do these days. The world could be burning and while everyone else was trying to put the fire out, they'd be that guy sitting on the sidelines complaining and blaming.

    March 1, 2014 06:30 pm at 6:30 pm |
  10. Will

    Hey all you Tea baggers / Right wingnuts enlist your sons send them to defend WHAT

    March 1, 2014 06:30 pm at 6:30 pm |
  11. Scott

    McCain only believes in war to resolve problems. Realistically, Ukraine needs to be split into two. Russia wants Crimea and the vast majority of the population there is Russian. The Russians can move out of other parts of Ukraine to compensate.

    March 1, 2014 06:32 pm at 6:32 pm |
  12. Josh

    @Stuffitu Thought you meant Bush there. Funny thing is what they are doing in Crimea has nothing to do with our National Security so sit back and think on that champ, or find someone to draw you a picture.

    March 1, 2014 06:32 pm at 6:32 pm |
  13. Epiphany

    Five years of GOP's relentless assault on President Obama and America, I don't think Obama is going to listen to them on foreign issues. I trust Obama more than any Republicans in post-Eisenhower era.

    March 1, 2014 06:33 pm at 6:33 pm |
  14. Art

    Why does the United States feel the need to do something? How about we not just get involved? Wars are costly and isn't it the GOP that's always complaining about the deficit?

    March 1, 2014 06:33 pm at 6:33 pm |
  15. t

    these MO rons want us to bomb Moscow..............they are a combined .................................................NUTZ

    March 1, 2014 06:35 pm at 6:35 pm |
  16. JeniW

    The GOP wants to send our military troops over to be slaughtered? Spend millions of dollars on weapons, transportation, and basic needs of the troops, then complain about the national debt? Has the GOP intervened, or at least offer to intervene? Why or why not?

    Talking tough is cheap, putting money where the mouth is to "do something" is not cheap.

    March 1, 2014 06:36 pm at 6:36 pm |
  17. VJ

    We have to stay away from this.... John McCain always be the first one who goes to war....

    March 1, 2014 06:36 pm at 6:36 pm |
  18. John

    Crying wolves, you push Obama to do something? What is he going to do? He knows that what Russia is doing is the right thing. We still have a base in Cuba. Kosovo was taken from Serbia by force. Cyprus is still occupied by the Islamist republic of Turkey. Where is the justice there? Why don't you punish Turkey? Justice only where we have our interests? Shame!!!! Shame!!

    March 1, 2014 06:36 pm at 6:36 pm |
  19. Frank

    "Obama warned that any violation of Ukraine's sovereignty "would be deeply destabilizing" and "not in the interest of Ukraine, Russia or Europe." But the President failed to spell out the specifics of what a response to the burgeoning crisis would look like."

    Hahaha. I like how it says Obama "failed" to spell out specifics on what a response should be if Russia decided to do something in Ukraine. Obama did not "FAIL" to tell us.. Obama just did NOT tell us. Maybe he does not want to. Maybe he is still debating on what should the measures be. Obama "failed" to tell us what he would do, yet, he just spent 90 minutes on the phone with Putin. John McCain should know that Putin does not only know what Obama is going to do by watching him giving out information at the White House. They can also speak on the phone. How does McCain not know that Obama did not tell him already?...

    March 1, 2014 06:37 pm at 6:37 pm |
  20. Chuck

    The thing that people need to remember is Russia isn't one of those countries we've been kicking around with half-century old conventional hardware–they are a nuclear superpower. That means when it really comes down to it, we are severely limited as to what we can do, especially in the military sense. That limits the options in regard to what can be done. Because it goes without saying nobody wants this to blow up into WWIII, where we all die over Ukraine. So I'm real glad he's playing it like he is right now and not acting like a warmongering hot-head who could get us all killed.

    March 1, 2014 06:38 pm at 6:38 pm |
  21. gf

    Relax. Crimea is full of Russians. There is no need for the "international" community or US to get their panties in a knot. What are you guys going to do? Wag your finger at the Russians? "Sanctions". Please.

    Obama is right to keep his nose out of this mess and look on from the side lines. Obama has bigger worries at home with the ceiling debt, artificially inflated economy and over half the country below the poverty line.

    March 1, 2014 06:38 pm at 6:38 pm |
  22. GenPatton

    I'm sure Putin laughed when he was told obammy was calling. We are so weak right no due to this "President". How sad.

    March 1, 2014 06:39 pm at 6:39 pm |
  23. bill

    Did berry call val and ask him to please remove his troops? After obummer's speech yesterday I bet Putin is shaking in his boots. PS thanks obummer. my health care just went up 167%.

    March 1, 2014 06:39 pm at 6:39 pm |
  24. Guest

    can somebody tell me why we are allowing a Russian warship to sit 200 miles off Miami.

    March 1, 2014 06:40 pm at 6:40 pm |
  25. Jimh77

    Republicans call on Obama to act. Right, How bout the Freakin Republicans start acting like Adults and do their freakin job they were elected to do rather than tie up America for the past 3+ years.
    I say we stay out of this mess and let the Ukraine handle it. We do not need to be involved with any more fighting.
    It's time to stop policing the rest of the world. Besides, the GOP being Anti American, Sure they want another war. That's all they are good for. So hey, get on a plane and go to Ukraine yourselves. And don't come back.
    America doesn't need you.

    March 1, 2014 06:42 pm at 6:42 pm |
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