Two international events filled the Sunday political talk shows: Russian President Vladimir Putin’s next move in Crimea and Ukraine and the mystery surrounding the bizarre and puzzling disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.
If you missed any of the Sunday political chatter, we've got you covered:
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Referendum in Crimea: It has become clear that voters in Sunday’s referendum in the Crimean region of Ukraine have backed joining Russia.
What’s unclear is if Sen. John McCain will win his bet. He said in an exclusive interview with CNN’s Candy Crowley on “State of the Union” that he has a bet with the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine that the people will vote either 70% or 80% in Russia’s favor.
Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Illinois, was much more blunt on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” calling Sunday’s vote “a Soviet-style election” where the outcome is predetermined.
The real question is what happens next. How does the United States respond? What about Europe? What does Putin do next?
The United States’ stance: Dan Pfeiffer, senior adviser to President Barack Obama, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that the Crimean referendum “is in violation of international law” and that the United States won’t recognize it.
“The costs are economic,” he said. “The more they escalate, the longer this goes, the greater the cost (to Russia) will be.”
Politicians who appeared on the Sunday shows came from both sides of the political aisle, but they all backed economic sanctions against Russia.
“Russia is a gas station masquerading as a country,” said McCain, the Arizona Republican who just returned from Ukraine. “It’s a nation that is really only dependent on oil and gas for their economy, and so economic sanctions are important.”
While economic sanctions against Russia are not controversial, aid to Ukraine is. A package was stalled in Congress last week that included $1 billion in U.S loan guarantees, $50 million to enhance democracy building and $100 million for improved security cooperation. Reforms to the International Monetary Fund are partly to blame for the hold up.
Even on the Sunday talk shows, where the message was largely monolithic toward the U.S. response, some disagreements surfaced about what type of aid should be provided.
McCain backs both humanitarian and military support.
“Get some military assistance to Ukrainians at least so they can defend themselves,” McCain said, adding that military aid should be a “long-term commitment” that would help the country regain Crimea.
Sen. Jeff Flake, McCain’s Republican colleague from Arizona, on “Meet the Press” agreed that military aid is necessary because the Ukrainian military has been “hollowed out over the past couple of years.”
“According to some Ukrainians, we have nothing that shoots, runs or flies because the Russians have had such close ties with the previous government, they hollowed the military out.”
On ABC’s “This Week,” Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut was a bit more wary of military assistance. “There's a lot of ways we can assist in the resistance. I'm not sure we're to the point in providing arms, but they need all sorts of nonlethal assistance, like MREs, that we can put on the ground.”
Rep. Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that despite economic pain, Putin believes he “has had the upper hand.”
But Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on “Fox News Sunday” that Putin’s actions are more like “a game of Russian roulette,” which underscores the need for decisive action.
Europe’s role: U.S. politicians Sunday insisted that Europe must be involved in invoking meaningful economic sanctions for Russia to feel severe impact. It’s a tough proposition for countries that rely on Russia for energy and investment, including Germany and Great Britain, which would endure some hardship as a result of the sanctions.
Pfeiffer said the United States is “working with” countries in Europe on sanctions.
“It will be interesting to see to what degree our European friends will join us,” McCain said.
Putin’s next move : It’s unclear what Putin will do next. He has moved troops to Ukraine’s eastern border, which some say is a provocative move.
“This will be a major miscalculation on behalf of Putin if you were to move in to eastern Ukraine,” Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee said on “Fox News Sunday.”
Corker said the United States must respond with “long-term resolve” or else “Putin will continue to do this. He did it in Georgia a few years ago. He's moved in to Crimea. And he will move in to other places.”
Russian reset?: While the issue of Ukraine and Russia was mostly void of partisan politics, it did seep into the discussion momentarily.
McCain said the United States should put aside any talk of a “reset,” have a “fundamental reassessment” of its relationship with Russia and treat Putin for “what he is.”
“That does not mean we issue a Cold War. But it does mean treating him in the way that we understand an individual who believes in restoring the Old Russian Empire,” McCain said.
Missing airplane mystery: Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said one thing is for sure about the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, a Boeing 777 with 239 people aboard that went missing on March 8 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing: It was not an accident.
“It was an intentional, deliberate act to bring down this airplane,” McCaul said on “Fox News Sunday.”
McCaul, a Texas Republican, points to “warning signs,” including a switched-off transponder, an abrupt change in flight pattern and two Iranian passengers with stolen passports.
He said, however, that there is no evidence that the disappearance was terrorism-related.
“Although you can’t rule that out at this point in time,” he said.
Meanwhile, on ABC’s “This Week,” Rep. Peter King, who is a member of the House Intelligence Committee and former chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, said, “There’s been no terrorist connection whatsoever; no terrorist chatter.”
“It doesn’t mean it’s not, but so far, nothing has been picked up by the intelligence community from day one.”
But King, R-New York, expressed frustration with the pace and effectiveness of the investigation.
Now that the focus has turned to the pilot and the co-pilot, a week after the plane’s disappearance, King said that should have been “ordinary” procedure early on.
“I wish the FBI were over there,” he said.
But Pfeiffer, the senior Obama adviser, said Malaysia is taking the lead, and the FBI, the Navy, and the National Transportation Safety Board are providing assistance.
Now back to politics: No Sunday show would be complete without at least some politics.
After a tough loss for Democrats in Florida’s 13th congressional district special election last week, Pfeiffer dismissed accusations that the President isn’t doing enough to help Democrats in 2014.
“This President wrote the book on running and winning modern campaigns. We're going to help Democrats up and down the ballots,” he said.
He also said, “I believe we will keep the Senate” in Democratic control.
Reince Priebus, head of the Republican National Committee, disagrees: “I think we're going to win the U.S. Senate.”
Republicans must pick up six seats to regain control.
Priebus also said that Republicans have expanded their outreach to women and minorities by putting operatives in diverse communities across the country.