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.
Let me state, right off the bat, that I am a Brit who is very pro-USA. However, I think that Russia has a point when it says "Russia has a right to protect its national interests". When the USA makes the same pronouncement (e.g. w.r.t. Syria, Libya, Israel, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, N.Korea, Granada, Panama etc) this is "OK" but when the Russians say this it is not "OK" ?!
The Crimea is Russia's "back yard" – it has a majority Russian-speaking population and is home to Russia's Black Sea fleet (read your history books to understand why Russia will never give up this strategic naval base).
I.M.H.O the Russians are taking the least action possible to protect their vital interests in Crimea – slow, de facto annexation.
So we have a bunch of GOPers saying do something (without saying what) and a president saying "don't do that or else" Meanwhile the Eastern Ukrainians have learned from the EU sponsored "protesters" and are rising up themselves.
Trembling inaction sound like a description of Congress for the last couple of years.
Big surprise McCain wants a war. Who knew Syria and Libya didn't have national sovereignty but the Ukraine does. Why don't the McCains in the world just admit they want to kill everyone who has the audacity to think differently than they do. Finally, for those that think this has anything to do with democracy or quality of life for the Ukraine citizens get a clue. This is about getting them on the hook with the IMF. Notice the talk about implementing tough economic reforms? That is code for the Ukraine selling their national assets at pennies on the dollar
we have a national debt that’s out of control, and the gop is trying to send us to wars we shouldn’t be fighting in."How come politicians never join the military when they are sending other people children to war?
Send the Republican chickhawks over there. Five star General Ted Nugent can lead them crapping in their pants.
They need some real military experience defending American or Ukrainian interests, or who ever donates to their campaigns.
sometime, i just wish Mccain became the president. i would love to see how he deals with this and have this whole thing spiral into an international war. :D
We are not the saviors of the world!
Peoples go into a conflict and EXPECT the world to bail them out with Billions of dollars of aid. We need those billions here for our decaying roads, bridges etc..
I do not want my children fighting.
This is not our problem, the rebels and the Russians need to work it out.
Their former president is gone. That is what they wanted.
Russia has the highest literacy rate in the world. They must be doing something right.
rs I agree with you 100%. McCain always wants to do "something". I fear his something usually means or includes war.
"And just what would the mighty midgets of the Right want the President to do? "
That can only be answered by the POTUS who is once again being outclassed by President Putin.
The GOP leaders suggested "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.
Any way you look at it President Obama should be working with President Putin to resolve this conflict rather than offering empty threats.
Let McCain go to Ukraine and fight. Let him take with him Palin, Rubio and O'Reilly as well.
The GOP doesn't want democracy here in the US. Why are they so concerned about the Ukrainian?
No chance Putin would be pulling this crap if Romney was sitting in the Oval Office.
Are you freakin' kidding !?1?! the damn GOP sent my daughters outfit to Iraq twice and her husband to the Afgan cesspool ...McSenile and his buddies should go ...leave real people at home ...
Obama's response appears to be exactly the same as Bush's when Russia invaded Georgia.
How about instead of asking the President to do something, they send a message saying, "If your proposed intervention in Ukraine, we'll support it."
"Do something" in today's poisonous political environment is code for, "TRY to do something, and we'll block you at every step, then criticize you for doing something without us."
Every time we are concerned with an involvement in another international issue, we should consider many factors. Can we afford to get Involved? Probably not. Look at out national debt; look at our roads and bridges. Look at our housing prices and other social issues. Every time the American government is getting ready to send out troop or waste our money any other way, we should remind them of our closed schools or 40 percent unemployment among our recent college grads, about our people dying from cancer and without a decent health care.
Every time out government refuses to consider any of the above outlined issues, their message is clear: "We do not care about American people, as much as we care about Ukrainians." You can supplement Ukrainians for any other nation..
Remember Ron Paul. He was right. Start rebuilding America, instead of other nations. We need your help.
Joe from Cleveland.
Would someone please tell John McCain and the other Republicans that they were NOT elected president and they should stop constantly telling the president what to do? This crisis is barely days old and yet the Republicans are already declaring the president's actions a failure. LET HIM DO HIS JOB. In a crisis, we need to support our president and we cannot have 100 different presidents. McCain has no idea what Obama is saying to Putin, much of which must be said privately because making public threats only makes matters worse. If the Republicans were in charge, we would start a new foreign war every 3 years.
They have done nothing in the last 6 years, but they want Obama to act! Weird isn't it.
Of course the GOP wants Obama to "act". The people that took over in Ukraine are proven NeoNazi ultra nationalists. Herp derp lets support more hate groups.... The US is beginning to be on the bad side of history now.
I can't wat to see the look on everyone's face when we actually do do something and the new Ukraine bans gays Uganda style.
The simple fact is the US and the EU can't afford a war with Russia nor could they win it. What can obama do? absolutely nothing.
Good to hear the president is getting his information from Rice.
"Republicans call on Obama to act on Ukraine"......and this is why I vote Democrat. If this is an international community problem, let there be an intervention with Putin by all members, not just the U.S. And starting war with that nutcase is not going to solve anything. If the people of Crimea in want to be part of Russia, let them. Who are we to decide for them? Ukraine can deal with it.
It used to be that politics stopped at the waters edge. No more. Just another opportunity to throw rocks at the President.
GAWD republicans can't keep their fingers in their own noses. They LOVE war. Pathetic.