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.
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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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