Nothing Unites Congress Like Vladimir Putin

In a surprising show of bipartisanship, a group of Republican and Democratic senators is headed to Ukraine this weekend.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. (left) and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.
National Journal
Marina Koren
Add to Briefcase
Marina Koren
March 13, 2014, 12:35 p.m.

The strong hopes for bi­par­tis­an agree­ment on big is­sues that kicked off the start of the year is slowly fad­ing for this Con­gress, one of the most po­lar­ized in his­tory. But noth­ing unites law­makers like a com­mon en­emy, and they’ve fi­nally found one: Rus­sia.

Eight sen­at­ors from both parties are fly­ing to Ukraine on Thursday to dis­cuss the on­go­ing crisis with lead­ers of the coun­try’s in­ter­im gov­ern­ment. The del­eg­a­tion is led by John Mc­Cain of Ari­zona, who is joined by fel­low Re­pub­lic­ans John Bar­rasso of Wyom­ing, Jeff Flake of Ari­zona, John Ho­even of North Dakota, and Ron John­son of Wis­con­sin. Demo­crat­ic Sens. Dick Durbin of Illinois, Chris Murphy of Con­necti­c­ut, and Shel­don White­house of Rhode Is­land are also go­ing. All but Ho­even and White­house are mem­bers of the Sen­ate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee.

In a Thursday morn­ing in­ter­view on CNN, Murphy said the sen­at­ors were trav­el­ing to East­ern Europe to “show the Ukrain­i­an gov­ern­ment they have strong U.S. sup­port in con­junc­tion with our al­lies” against Rus­sia. “[Rus­si­an Pres­id­ent Vladi­mir] Putin marched on Crimea be­cause he doesn’t be­lieve that the United States and Europe are go­ing to stand to­geth­er to ex­act con­sequences on the Rus­si­an eco­nomy,” he told an­chor Car­ol Cos­tello. “I think we’re go­ing to prove him wrong.”

The joint trip il­lus­trates an un­usu­al bi­par­tis­an streak that has emerged in the last few weeks, as Wash­ing­ton law­makers come to­geth­er in de­fense of Ukraine’s sov­er­eignty and con­dem­na­tion of Rus­sia’s mil­it­ary in­ter­ven­tion in­to Crimea. Not too long ago, the con­flict in Syr­ia had re­vealed deep di­vi­sions in Con­gress and with­in both parties.

The trip comes ahead of a Sunday vote by Crimea on a ref­er­en­dum to se­cede from Ukraine and be­come a part of Rus­sia, a de­cision loudly de­nounced by the U.S. The del­eg­a­tion is sched­uled to fly back home that morn­ing.

But the sen­at­ors are head­ing to Ukraine re­l­at­ively empty-handed. While they seem to agree that Rus­sia poses a real threat to both Ukraine and the U.S., they haven’t yet found com­mon ground on how to pres­sure Mo­scow to back off.

Sev­er­al Sen­ate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee Re­pub­lic­ans joined the Demo­crat­ic ma­jor­ity on Wed­nes­day to ap­prove le­gis­la­tion that would provide fin­an­cial aid to Kiev, im­pose sanc­tions on Rus­si­ans in­volved in the in­cur­sion, and re­form parts of the In­ter­na­tion­al Mon­et­ary Fund. But House Re­pub­lic­ans, in­clud­ing lead­er­ship, are ready to op­pose the bill, say­ing lan­guage on IMF re­forms and fund­ing, which the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has been push­ing, doesn’t be­long in an aid bill for Ukraine. The House has already passed a bill for $1 bil­lion in loan guar­an­tees to Ukraine, without any pro­vi­sions for sanc­tions of IMF re­forms.

The Sen­ate-pro­posed le­gis­la­tion is ex­pec­ted to pass the cham­ber, but a vote on the floor is look­ing highly un­likely Thursday night. That means Ukraine won’t see any form of U.S. as­sist­ance for an­oth­er week, since the House and Sen­ate are in re­cess for the next week.

However, that won’t stop Mc­Cain from per­son­ally do­ing some dip­lo­mat­ic man­euv­er­ing while he’s in Ukraine this week. The sen­at­or told The Wall Street Journ­al on Wed­nes­day that three Ukrain­i­an lead­ers called him to re­quest the vis­it, and he has close work­ing re­la­tion­ships with some of them. Mc­Cain may have in­vited Demo­crats along, but by lead­ing a sep­ar­ate charge, the law­maker is cir­cum­vent­ing White House policy. Mc­Cain has reg­u­larly cri­ti­cized Pres­id­ent Obama’s in­ter­ac­tions with his Rus­si­an coun­ter­part since the crisis began, and it seems he’s grown im­pa­tient. A Feb­ru­ary Wire head­line from Abby Ohl­he­iser said it all: “John Mc­Cain Is Back-Seat Pres­id­ent­ing the Ukraine Crisis.”

And Mc­Cain, along with his fel­low trav­el­ers, has the pub­lic sup­port to back up his tough-on-Putin stance. Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent NBC News/Wall Street Journ­al poll, al­most two-thirds of Amer­ic­ans said they have a some­what or very neg­at­ive opin­ion of Putin. Ad­di­tion­ally, 72 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans view Rus­sia as an ad­versary rather than an ally, the highest level since the poll began ask­ing the ques­tion in 1995. In oth­er words, Amer­ic­ans felt bet­ter about Rus­sia a few years after the end of the Cold War than they do now.

This week­end’s con­gres­sion­al trip is more of the same when it comes to re­cent U.S. policy: talks, talks, and more talks. But the sen­at­ors’ in­volve­ment sug­gests that Con­gress is not will­ing to stop there.

What We're Following See More »
CARSON UP NEXT
Zinke Confirmed As Interior Secretary
1 hours ago
BREAKING
GOODLATTE SENDING LETTER TO SESSIONS THIS WEEK
House GOP Blocks Dems on Trump Ethics
3 hours ago
THE DETAILS

On a party-line vote, "the House Judiciary Committee defeated a Democratic effort Tuesday to obtain any information the Justice Department has on possible conflicts, ethical violations or improper connections to Russia by President Donald Trump and his associates. The committee’s Republican chairman, Bob Goodlatte, opposed the resolution, even as he acknowledged the Justice Department hasn’t acted on his own request for a briefing on alleged Russian interference with the U.S. election and potential ties to the Trump campaign." He said he'll be sending a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions requesting him to pursue "all legitimate investigative leads" into those matters.

Source:
WAITING FOR NEWS CYCLE TO REFRESH
Trump Holds Off on New Travel Ban
3 hours ago
THE LATEST

"President Donald Trump won’t sign a revised travel ban on Wednesday as had been anticipated, two senior administration officials confirmed. One of the officials indicated that the delay was due to the busy news cycle, and that when Trump does sign the revised order, he wanted it to get plenty of attention."

Source:
BUT THEY MUST PAY
Donald Trump Affirms Support For NATO
14 hours ago
UPDATE

Near the end of his speech Tuesday, Donald Trump made a firm proclamation affirming his support for NATO. "We strongly support NATO, an alliance forged through the bonds of two World Wars that dethroned fascism, and a Cold War that defeated communism," Trump said. However, he continued on, "our partners must meet their financial obligations."

UNITES GOP
Obamacare Repeal Portion Lacks Specifics
15 hours ago
UPDATE

In his address to a joint session of Congress, Donald Trump called on the two chambers "to repeal and replace Obamacare with reforms that expand choice, increase access, lower costs, and at the same time, provide better Healthcare." The entire section of Republican members of Congress united in a standing ovation, while Democrats sat silently, with some even giving a thumbs down to the cameras. At one point, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was shown shaking her head in disapproval. While Trump called for the repeal and replacement of Obamacare, he failed to give any specifics, though he did say those with preexisting conditions should have access to care and give flexibility back to the states.

×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login