Senators Head to Ukraine Empty-Handed

An aid package is expected to pass, but Sen. John McCain says, “I haven’t been embarrassed this way about members of my own party.”

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 13: Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee member Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) (R) questions former Department of Defense General Counsel Jeh Johnson during his confirmation hearing to be the next Secretary of Homeland Security with committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-DE) (L) and Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill November 13, 2013 in Washington, DC. If confirmed by the Senate, Johnson would replace Secretary Janet Napolitano who left DHS in September.
National Journal
Sarah Mimms
March 14, 2014, 1 a.m.

Eight sen­at­ors flew to Ukraine on Thursday to com­mu­nic­ate the United States’ sup­port of the coun­try, as Rus­si­an forces con­tin­ued to oc­cupy Crimea. Sen­at­ors had hope to bring with them news of a re­cently passed aid pack­age for the coun­try, a hope that was scuttled this week.

Amid par­tis­an bick­er­ing over wheth­er to ex­pand the In­ter­na­tion­al Mon­et­ary Fund’s lend­ing ca­pa­city, the Sen­ate has de­cided to take up the aid le­gis­la­tion after its cur­rent re­cess. The Sen­ate will re­turn on March 24, when the pack­age passed by the Sen­ate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee is ex­pec­ted to pass. In oth­er words, Ukraine will have to wait at least a week and half be­fore it re­ceives aid from the United States.

“It would be nice to go there with a de­liv­er­able, but I think they can say strongly that help is on the way,” Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham, R-S.C., who is not par­ti­cip­at­ing in the trip, said Thursday.

Sen. John Mc­Cain, R-Ar­iz., who is lead­ing the del­eg­a­tion to Ukraine said he isn’t wor­ried about show­ing up empty-handed. “They know me, they asked me to come, they didn’t tell me to come if it passed or if it doesn’t pass. They asked me to come be­cause they want us to ex­press our sup­port for them,” he said. “I’m go­ing to tell them that it’ll pass in 11 days when we get back.”

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who is mak­ing his second trip to the coun­try with Mc­Cain since Decem­ber, noted that the over­whelm­ing pas­sage of the aid pack­age through the Sen­ate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee on Wed­nes­day would help in get­ting that mes­sage across. But he ar­gued on the Sen­ate floor Thursday that hav­ing an aid pack­age in hand dur­ing their trip would have sent a “stronger mes­sage.”

“I think we sent a strong mes­sage yes­ter­day in the Sen­ate that we’re go­ing to be ul­ti­mately passing an aid bill with sanc­tions at­tached to it. I think the House bill is im­port­ant, but it’s not strong enough to send the mes­sage to Rus­sia that is ne­ces­sary,” Murphy said.

Un­like the House-passed meas­ure, the Sen­ate aid pack­age would levy sanc­tions against Rus­sia and in­crease the IMF’s spend­ing au­thor­ity.

The lat­ter pro­vi­sion, which has been pro­moted heav­ily by the White House, has caused some up­roar among Re­pub­lic­ans who worry about how the IMF will spend those funds. Sec­ret­ary of State John Kerry said Thursday that while he strongly prefers in­clud­ing the IMF re­form in the le­gis­la­tion, get­ting the aid to Ukraine “im­me­di­ately” takes a pri­or­ity.

Murphy agreed. “I think it would be a tragedy to drop IMF from the bill, but … there is al­most un­an­im­ity in the Sen­ate that we should pass an aid and sanc­tions bill in short or­der,” he said.

But Re­pub­lic­ans ar­gue that the IMF fund­ing isn’t even ne­ces­sary for Ukrain­i­ans right now. Sen. Bob Cork­er of Ten­ness­ee, who is the rank­ing mem­ber on the For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee and sup­ports the IMF fund­ing, said Ukrain­i­an Prime Min­is­ter Ar­sen­iy Yat­seny­uk told his com­mit­tee that he still has to “work out a deal with the IMF be­fore our loan guar­an­tee is even use­ful.”

The in­fight­ing has been par­tic­u­larly vex­ing for Mc­Cain, who took to the Sen­ate floor Thursday, after sen­at­ors had wrapped up their votes for the week, with an im­pas­sioned screed against his col­leagues who are plan­ning to vote against the aid pack­age over the IMF pro­vi­sion.

“You can call yourselves Re­pub­lic­ans,” Mc­Cain con­tin­ued. “That’s fine, be­cause that’s your voter re­gis­tra­tion. Don’t call your­self Re­agan Re­pub­lic­ans. Ron­ald Re­agan would nev­er — would nev­er — let this kind of ag­gres­sion go un­respon­ded to by the Amer­ic­an people.”

Mc­Cain was later joined on the floor for a lengthy, heated ex­change among sev­er­al of his GOP col­leagues, in­clud­ing Sens. Jeff Ses­sions of Alabama and Ted Cruz of Texas, who op­pose the pack­age be­cause of the IMF in­clu­sion, as well as by Murphy and Cork­er.

Mc­Cain also took Re­pub­lic­an Sen. John Bar­rasso of Wyom­ing and oth­ers to task for ar­guing in fa­vor of bring­ing up the House-passed le­gis­la­tion, which lacks sanc­tions against Rus­sia.

Al­though Mc­Cain re­peatedly noted that the pack­age will pass in two weeks, the ob­jec­tions of his col­leagues over a bill that would im­prove the “lives of thou­sands of people” in Ukraine clearly struck a nerve. The Ari­zon­an even com­pared the Re­pub­lic­an po­s­i­tion­ing on the is­sue to the “fool’s er­rand” of shut­ting down the gov­ern­ment last Oc­to­ber.

“I’ve been em­bar­rassed be­fore on the floor of the Sen­ate.”¦ But I haven’t been em­bar­rassed this way about mem­bers of my party,” Mc­Cain said.

The sen­at­ors are of­fi­cially sched­uled to vis­it Kiev dur­ing their trip, but oth­er stops have not been an­nounced pub­licly. Asked if they would vis­it Crimea, Murphy said, “I don’t think it would be smart to have a bunch of U.S. sen­at­ors in a war zone right now.”

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