House sends Ukraine aid bill to Obama

The House on Tuesday passed legislation to provide economic assistance to Ukraine and sanction Russia, sending the package to President Obama a few weeks after Russia formally took control of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula.

In a 378-34 vote, members passed a bipartisan, bicameral bill to provide $1 billion in loan guarantees to Ukraine, as well as security aid. The Senate-amended H.R. 4152 also codifies sanctions against Russia in response to its military intervention into Ukraine.

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The White House lauded Congress Tuesday evening in a statement.

"The President welcomes today’s congressional action to finalize an assistance package for Ukraine," according to a White House readout. "This legislation will allow us to provide crucial support to Ukraine through loan guarantees that will facilitate access to needed financing to Ukraine as it takes essential steps to restore economic stability and return to growth and prosperity."

In a 399-12 vote, the House also passed S. 2183, which funds pro-democracy broadcasting to Ukraine.

The broadcasting bill was passed by the Senate last week as part of a House-Senate agreement on the legislation. The language was in the House-passed bill, but not the Senate version, and the Senate agreed to consider it as a separate measure.

Both bills were heartily supported by both parties in the brief debate that preceded their passage.

"With Russian forces massing on Ukraine's borders, tension and fear is spreading throughout the region, and our legislation sends a clear signal — that Congress will not stand for further violations," said House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.).

Some members said the U.S. should do more, such as the idea championed by Republicans to speed up natural gas exports to Ukraine.

"For many years, Moscow has used its supply of oil and gas to blackmail Ukraine, and to blackmail other countries, including some of our NATO allies in Eastern Europe," said Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.).

"This morning, Gazprom announced that it would hike the price of natural gas to Ukraine by 44 percent, an announcement deliberately timed to worsen that country's economic situation," he said. "We can remove this weapon from Russia's arsenal by lifting the self-imposed barriers on U.S. energy exports."

Members added that the broadcasting bill would make it harder for Russia to smother Ukraine with propaganda to boost Russia's popularity.

"Stark images of chaos and violence are used to persuade viewers that ethnic and linguistic Russians are under attack in Ukraine," Royce said. "Footage of a border crossing between Ukraine and Poland has been used to support the outlandish claims that Ukrainian refugees are fleeing into Russia.

"In Crimea, Russian forces have seized control of a least a dozen television and radio stations that are now used to broadcast misleading and false news and information around the clock," he added. "Russian propaganda right now is really in overdrive."

— This story was updated at 9:50 p.m.