Ukraine aid bill passes the House

The House approved legislation Thursday that would provide loan guarantees for Ukraine, spend millions to promote democracy and security in the country and sanction Russian officials who threaten Ukraine's sovereignty.

Members passed H.R. 4278, a bipartisan bill that reflects a House-Senate agreement on a way to react to Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula. It passed in an easy 399-19 vote.

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The House vote could set up a House-Senate conference on a way to reconcile a similar but not identical Senate bill that the Senate passed just before the House vote.

Both parties were in broad agreement on the need to pass the bill to send a message that the U.S. believes Russia used unacceptable force to ensure Crimea would fall into Russia's hands.

"If we want to check aggression from Russia, we must push back," said House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.). "We must work together quickly, not only to confront this monopoly circumstance that exists there, but also to quickly impose tough sanctions on President Putin and on those who have been his accomplices in carrying out this aggression."

Royce noted he and ranking member Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) would lead a bipartisan delegation to Ukraine in a few weeks, just before the May 25 presidential election in that country.

"We will be there to meet with the parliament, the leadership, the electoral commission in advance of that election," he said.

"With the people of Ukraine now in dire need of assistance and under imminent threat, there has never been a more critical moment to show our support," Engel said during House debate.

Despite bipartisan support for the bill, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said the bill should be just a first step in a new process of re-evaluating the U.S. relationship with Russia.

"We must fundamentally reassess our assumptions about Russia and acknowledge that Putin himself scrapped the administration's reset policy a long time ago," Cantor said. "We need a new strategy that understands Putin for who he is, not who we wish him to be."

Another Republican, however, argued that sanctioning Russia was the wrong approach. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) has argued that Putin is being "demonized" in the U.S. and said Putin is acting in the best interests of Russia.

Rohrabacher, who served in the Reagan White House, said many members of Congress are "more comfortable … treating Russia as if it was still under Communist rule."

"Putin is not a Communist leader," he said. "Putin is a nationalist who loves his country, and he's looking out for the national interest of his country.

"For us to try to demonize him and to try to suggest that he is doing this like he did in the Cold War … is not doing the cause of peace any good."