Leaders of Both Parties Backing Obama on Ukraine

Committee chairs on both sides of the Capitol are drafting bills to aid Ukraine and pressure Russia.

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 04: U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) (L) talks with Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ) before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee vote on a resolution on Syria on Capitol Hill September 4, 2013 in Washington, DC. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted to authorize U.S. President Barack Obama to use limited force against Syria after adopting amendments from U.S. U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-NV).
National Journal
Michael Catalin
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Michael Catalin
March 3, 2014, 5:19 p.m.

Even with law­makers all over the board on Ukraine, con­gres­sion­al lead­ers are tak­ing steps to bol­ster Pres­id­ent Obama as he nav­ig­ates the pre­cari­ous and fast-chan­ging situ­ation in East­ern Europe.

House and Sen­ate com­mit­tee chairs are pre­par­ing meas­ures to au­thor­ize aid to Ukraine, while lead­ers in both cham­bers — and from both sides of the aisle — have signaled they’re back­ing the White House’s re­quest for the pack­age.

Sen­ate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee Chair­man Robert Men­en­dez said his pan­el is put­ting to­geth­er a bi­par­tis­an le­gis­lat­ive pack­age au­thor­iz­ing up to $1 bil­lion in loan guar­an­tees to sup­port Ukraine’s eco­nomy. Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id, in a brief state­ment Monday, called the pres­id­ent’s re­quest for eco­nom­ic aid “ap­pro­pri­ate” and said he would be “happy to help in any way.”

In the House, Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Eric Can­tor said com­mit­tee chair­men are draft­ing plans aimed at pres­sur­ing Rus­sia to leave Ukraine.

The re­sponse comes as Rus­si­an troops have moved in­to the east­ern Ukrain­i­an re­gion of Crimea — site of a Rus­si­an nav­al base and a large eth­nic Rus­si­an pop­u­la­tion — and as Sec­ret­ary of State John Kerry travels to Kiev to of­fer — in the pres­id­ent’s words — “con­crete pack­ages of eco­nom­ic aid.”

“What we are also in­dic­at­ing to the Rus­si­ans is that if, in fact, they con­tin­ue on the cur­rent tra­ject­ory that they’re on, that we are ex­amin­ing a whole series of steps — eco­nom­ic, dip­lo­mat­ic — that will isol­ate Rus­sia and will have a neg­at­ive im­pact on Rus­sia’s eco­nomy and its status in the world,” Obama said Monday at the White House.

In a state­ment, Men­en­dez did not in­dic­ate how quickly his com­mit­tee would move on the pack­age, but said he will also work with the ad­min­is­tra­tion on a range of sanc­tions, in­clud­ing some against in­di­vidu­al Rus­si­ans and Ukrain­i­ans. The com­mit­tee’s le­gis­la­tion would also seek to help Ukraine’s gov­ern­ment with “tech­nic­al as­sist­ance for en­ergy re­forms” and would “sup­port elec­tions, strengthen civil so­ci­ety, com­bat cor­rup­tion, and as­sist Ukraine in the re­cov­ery of stolen as­sets,” Men­en­dez said.

“Rus­sia’s mil­it­ary in­ter­ven­tion in Ukraine con­sti­tutes a clear vi­ol­a­tion of in­ter­na­tion­al law and de­mands a swift and co­ordin­ated re­sponse from the in­ter­na­tion­al com­munity to sup­port the Ukraine and counter Rus­si­an ef­forts to an­nex Ukrain­i­an ter­rit­ory by force,” the New Jer­sey Demo­crat said.

It is not cer­tain that Men­en­dez’s pack­age will make it to the Sen­ate floor. While Re­id soun­ded warm to the pres­id­ent’s ap­proach, he did not in­dic­ate he would put the meas­ure to a vote.

Some Demo­crats, mean­while, im­me­di­ately called for stricter eco­nom­ic sanc­tions against Rus­sia rather than aid to Ukraine.

“The U.S. should use im­me­di­ate eco­nom­ic and dip­lo­mat­ic pres­sure against Rus­sia,” Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee mem­ber Bill Nel­son, D-Fla., said in a state­ment. Rus­si­an Pres­id­ent Vladi­mir Putin “should feel the pres­sure of the eco­nom­ic screws be­ing tightened.”

Ac­know­ledging Rus­sia’s crit­ic­al in­terests in the re­gion, Sen­ate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee Chair­wo­man Di­anne Fein­stein said she had no doubt Rus­sia had taken con­trol of the Crimean pen­in­sula.

“The chal­lenge now is to pre­vent es­cal­a­tion in­to south­ern and east­ern Ukraine and be­gin a con­ver­sa­tion with the Rus­si­an and Ukrain­i­an gov­ern­ments in or­der to work out a solu­tion that pre­serves Ukraine’s sov­er­eignty and re­cog­nizes Rus­sia’s in­terests,” Fein­stein said.

Can­tor said he be­lieves there is bi­par­tis­an sup­port for as­sist­ance to Ukraine, “but we must make sure it is done re­spons­ibly and any le­gis­la­tion is not delayed by adding di­vis­ive pro­vi­sions.

“We should be fo­cused on mov­ing such a pack­age as quickly as pos­sible,” he said. “The House will re­view how we can ex­ped­i­tiously con­sider as­sist­ance to Ukraine in the form of loan guar­an­tees.”

The White House has already taken steps aimed at thwart­ing Rus­sia’s ad­vances in Crimea. Over the week­end, the ad­min­is­tra­tion an­nounced that the U.S., along with oth­er G-8 na­tions, had hal­ted pre­par­a­tions for the G-8 sum­mit in June in So­chi, Rus­sia.

Obama called for un­an­im­ity across party lines and said no coun­try has the right to send troops in­to an­oth­er coun­try un­pro­voked.

“My ex­pect­a­tion is, is that I’ll be able to get Con­gress to work with us in or­der to achieve that goal,” Obama said.

The con­gres­sion­al re­ac­tion to the situ­ation in Ukraine and the White House’s hand­ling of it con­trasts sharply with the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ap­proach in Ir­an. While Obama seeks to pur­sue a dip­lo­mat­ic ap­proach to the ques­tion of Ir­a­ni­an nuc­le­ar arms, both Demo­crat­ic and Re­pub­lic­an law­makers have bucked his strategy there, call­ing for in­creased sanc­tions. So far, Re­id has backed the White House, keep­ing sanc­tions off the floor.

In this case, though, law­makers are emer­ging as sup­port­ers of the White House’s ap­proach.

Still, that has not pre­cluded some mem­bers from openly cri­ti­ciz­ing Obama. Re­pub­lic­an Sen. Ted Cruz, a pro­spect­ive 2016 pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate, said in a state­ment that the pres­id­ent’s state­ments would mean as much to Putin as so-called red lines that Syr­ia’s pres­id­ent crossed last year.

“If the Rus­si­ans per­sist in this ag­gress­ive ac­tion, we should look in­to ad­di­tion­al meas­ures such as sus­pen­sion from the World Trade Or­gan­iz­a­tion and even the United Na­tions Se­cur­ity Coun­cil,” Cruz said in a state­ment.

Billy House con­trib­uted

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