OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Republicans call for stronger response to Russia

The Topline: Republican lawmakers on Monday blasted President Obama’s new round of U.S. sanctions against Russia as little more than a “slap on the wrist.”

“The administration’s tepid, incremental sanctions are insufficient given Russia’s continued occupation of Crimea and ongoing actions to fuel unrest in eastern Ukraine,” Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) said in a joint statement with Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). 

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The sanctions, which Obama announced on Monday, target the assets and trade relations of 17 companies that are owned or controlled by allies of Putin and stop short of targeting entire sectors of the Russian economy.

"I think our president is taking a cautious approach warranted because our European allies are the — are trade partners with Russia, they depend on Russia's energy. And so we have be careful because sanctions against Russia also have the good probability of hurting our allies," said Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.) on MSNBC.

The administration on Monday suggested broader sanctions would be on the table if Russia were to encroach further onto Ukrainian territory.

But lawmakers say the unrest that Putin has been stoking in Ukraine already warrants a more robust U.S. response.

“While I am encouraged that President Obama has announced more sanctions, I continue to be concerned that the administration’s actions are too little, too late to effectively deter Putin,” said Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) in a statement. 

"The events of recent weeks are entirely predictable from a foreign policy where we draw red lines and then we don't keep our commitments," Rep. Luke Messer (R-Ind.) said Monday on Bloomberg TV. 

Messer said if Russian forces move into Ukraine, the U.S. should also support arming Ukraine forces with anti-tank equipment and anti-missile equipment. 

The president and White House officials ruled out the idea of providing lethal aid to Ukraine forces. 

"Do people actually think that somehow us sending some additional arms into Ukraine could potentially deter the Russian army?" President Obama said from Manila on Monday. "Or are we more likely to deter them by applying the sort of international pressure, diplomatic pressure and economic pressure that we're applying?”

Meanwhile, Democrats welcomed the sanctions: Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) called additional sanctions on Russia announced by the White House on Monday "good news.”

"With these new measures, the United States is making it clear to President Putin —along with the people and businesses aligned with him — that their actions have consequences," Engel said in a statement Monday.

And Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) called the new sanctions against Russia “an important step.”

“The new sanctions announced by the administration today targeting individuals close to Vladimir Putin, as well as certain banks and other business entities, is an important step that must be matched quickly by our European allies,” Schiff said. 

However, both agreed that additional steps would probably need to be taken. 

"I call on our European allies and other partners around the world to ramp up their sanctions against Russia as well. It is critical that we collectively rally to the defense of Ukraine," Engel said.

“At the same time, I urge the Administration and our allies to continue helping the Government of Ukraine deal with the dire economic and security crisis in the country, and to prepare for free and fair elections and constitutional reforms that will return Ukraine to political and economic health," he said.

Lawmakers introduce 'Asia-Pacific Region Priority Act': Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) and Rep. Colleen Hanibusa (D-Hawaii) announced Monday they are introducing a bill that would affirm Congress’s commitment to the Asia pivot. 

After the administration pivoted to Asia, lawmakers realized they needed to affirm Congress’s commitment to what is a “major crucial area for the United States,” Forbes said. 

The bill calls for stability and peaceful cooperation in the Asia-Pacific, in light of China’s rise and growing North Korean missile threats, said a summary of the bill. 

It condemns “coercive attempts” to determine maritime disputes and reaffirms the U.S. commitment to its ally Japan, and opposes any attempt to undermine Japanese administration of the Senkaku Islands, the summary said. 

Hanibusa said the U.S.’s focus on the Asia-Pacific was critical, given the number of U.S. trade partners in the region and growing economic opportunities in the region. 

It will also help Congress look at how the U.S. maintains combat readiness in that area of the world, she said. 

The bill calls for several new assessments, including on China’s naval modernization, on space defense, and potential security challenges posed by “Anti-Access/Area-Denial,” or strategies. 

The bill will be introduced Monday as a standalone bill, but some of its parts could be included in the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, Forbes said. 

Forbes vows to keep aircraft carrier: Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) said on Monday lawmakers were not going to allow the USS George Washington aircraft carrier to be cut in 2016 despite current Pentagon plans to do so.

“I am not worried that the United States is going to lose a carrier because I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Forbes said at a press conference on Monday. 

The Pentagon has proposed a 2015 defense budget that would prepare for the George Washington’s inactivation if defense cuts known as sequestration are not lifted by 2016. 

Although Congress has no plans to undo sequestration, which would impose cuts of $50 billion on the Pentagon over the next decade, Forbes said he was confident lawmakers would keep the carrier. 

“In every contingency operation planned, we have the carrier. ... [It] is the main thing the President of the United States is going to always ask, ‘Where are my carriers?’ We’re going to make sure that carrier is in there,” he said. “I think that’s important for us to do.” 

 

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