During Monday’s daily White House press briefing, as pro-Russian protests spread through Ukrainian cities, reporters asked press secretary Jay Carney more than 30 questions related to Russia. On Tuesday, when Ukraine began mobilizing troops to quell unrest, Carney fielded 30 more.
Questions about U.S. strategy in the Ukraine crisis have ranged from the small (Q: What was President Obama’s tone like in a call to Russian President Vladimir Putin? A: Frank and firm) to the large (Q: Is the U.S. considering arming the Ukrainians? A: No).
Unsurprisingly, Carney did not provide concrete answers to many of them. But the verbal maneuvering doesn’t necessarily mean the White House is purposefully hiding its strategy. The lack of answers may signal that, right now, the Obama administration can’t predict Putin’s next move with any certainty.
Carney did hint to reporters Wednesday that the White House has prepared new sanctions, but he didn’t say when those might be imposed.
“We are involved in assessing what Russia has been doing, what it’s doing now, what its possible next actions might be,” Carney said. “And we’re doing that in the context of what costs we might impose — we collectively might impose on Russia for the actions they undertake.”
In other words, the White House is staying careful about charging Russia for action it has not yet taken, even as Russian and Ukrainian forces teeter on the brink of military confrontation. It’s playing the same “wait and see” card that it did ahead of Moscow’s annexation of Crimea, a Ukrainian peninsula.
“Political observers both in Russia and the West are once again reduced not to analyzing data or strategy, but to reading the tea leaves and psychoanalyzing a man whose psyche bends toward unpredictability,” The New Republic‘s Julia Ioffe wrote last week, when Russian troops began amassing along Ukraine’s border in earnest.
But this time, the U.S. may not wait too long. Carney’s mention of forthcoming sanctions signals that the U.S. may want to punish Russia before a possible second intervention, rather than reacting to one it cannot reverse.
What We're Following See More »
President Trump’s portrayal of an effort to funnel more Medicaid dollars to Puerto Rico as a "bailout" is complicating negotiations over a continuing resolution on the budget. "House Democrats are now requiring such assistance as a condition for supporting the continuing resolution," a position that the GOP leadership is amenable to. "But Mr. Trump’s apparent skepticism aligns him with conservative House Republicans inclined to view its request as a bailout, leaving the deal a narrow path to passage in Congress."
Facebook "outlined new measures it is taking to combat what it calls 'information operations' that go well beyond the phenomenon known as fake news" on Thursday. Facebook acknowledged that there are governments using its platform as a tool to launch propaganda information campaigns and "manipulate public opinion in other countries. ... Facebook suspended 30,000 accounts in France ahead of last Sunday’s first-round presidential election."
Democrats in the House are threatening to shut down the government if Republicans expedite a vote on a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, said Democratic House Whip Steny Hoyer Thursday. Lawmakers have introduced a one-week spending bill to give themselves an extra week to reach a long-term funding deal, which seemed poised to pass easily. However, the White House is pressuring House Republicans to take a vote on their Obamacare replacement Friday to give Trump a legislative victory, though it is still not clear that they have the necessary votes to pass the health care bill. This could go down to the wire.
Members of Congress are eyeing a one-week spending bill which would keep the government open past the Friday night deadline, giving lawmakers an extra week to iron out a long-term deal to fund the government. Without any action, the government would run out of funding starting at midnight Saturday. “I am optimistic that a final funding package will be completed soon," said Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.