Lawmakers to Obama: Arm Ukraine now

Lawmakers to Obama: Arm Ukraine now
© Greg Nash

The White House came under bipartisan pressure from both sides of the Capitol to provide weapons to Ukraine Thursday.

Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Armed Services Committee made a big push on the issue, while a bipartisan group of House members called for the same course of action in a letter.

"The United States must act with urgency to provide defensive lethal assistance to Ukraine," said Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMcCain rips Trump for attacks on press NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Meghan McCain says her father regrets opposition to MLK Day MORE (R-Ariz.), the chairman of the Armed Services Committee.

"Russia's invasion of sovereign territory of Ukraine, which has continued unabated in the face of political and economic sanctions, is the gravest threat to European security in decades," he said.

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In an unusual display of bipartisan agreement, McCain was joined at the press conference by the committee's ranking member, Sen. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Raymond ReedLawmakers, political figures share their New Year's resolutions for 2018 Congress must provide flexible funding for owners of repeatedly flooded properties Senate panel moves forward with bill to roll back Dodd-Frank MORE (D-R.I.), and Sens. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeEPA's Pruitt: Bring back 'true environmentalism' Tax cut complete, hawks push for military increase Trump meets with oil-state GOP senators on ethanol mandate MORE (R-Okla.), Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonSenate campaign fundraising reports roll in Week ahead: Tech giants to testify on extremist content Puerto Rico's children need recovery funds MORE (D-Fla.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamDHS chief takes heat over Trump furor Overnight Defense: GOP chair blames Dems for defense budget holdup | FDA, Pentagon to speed approval of battlefield drugs | Mattis calls North Korea situation 'sobering' Bipartisan group to introduce DACA bill in House MORE (R-S.C.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteLessons from Alabama: GOP, throw out the old playbook The Hill's 12:30 Report Explaining Democratic victories: It’s gun violence, stupid MORE (R-N.H.), Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyDems search for winning playbook GOP anxious with Trump on trade Blue wave of 2018 stops in Indiana and Missouri MORE (D-Ind.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), Tom CottonTom CottonMcCarthy: ‘No deadline on DACA’ DHS chief takes heat over Trump furor Lawmakers see shutdown’s odds rising MORE (R-Ark.) and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska).

Meanwhile, the group of House lawmakers said that the administration needed to provide weapons to Ukraine to deter further Russian aggression. 

"We are calling on the Administration to increase its support for Ukraine. Tighter sanctions and greater humanitarian assistance should be part of that support, but now, more than ever, the U.S. must supply Ukraine with the means to defend itself," they said in their letter. 

Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffIntel Dem decries White House 'gag order' after Bannon testimony 'Total free-for-all' as Bannon clashes with Intel members Mueller has subpoenaed Bannon in Russia probe: report MORE (D-Calif.), ranking member on the House Intelligence committee, was the lead signatory on the letter. He was joined by more than 30 Republicans and Democrats.

The U.S. and Western allies slapped economic sanctions on Moscow after it invaded Ukraine and annexed its peninsula of Crimea last March, but the country has continued to arm and train pro-Russian rebels in Eastern Ukraine. 

Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryFeehery: Oprah Dem presidential bid unlikely Dem hopefuls flock to Iowa Change in Iran will only come from its people — not the United States MORE said while visiting Ukraine on Thursday that President Obama is "reviewing all his options." 

"Among those options obviously is the possibility of providing defensive systems to Ukraine," he said, according to the Associated Press. 

However, he added, "We are not interested in a proxy war. Our objective is to change Russia's behavior."

The White House has so far turned down Ukraine's requests for weapons out of fear it would further provoke Russia, but has provided nearly $122 million in non-lethal military equipment to Ukrainian forces, such as blankets, body armor and meal packets.

The senators said the time has come to provide weapons as well, given gains by rebels in recent weeks and Russian President Vladimir Putin's violation of a ceasefire agreement.

"Blankets don't do very well against tanks," said McCain. Providing arms "will raise the risk and costs Russia must incur to continue its offensive," he said.   

McCain said that since April, Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine have killed 5,358 Ukrainian forces, wounded 12,235 others and killed 224 civilians.

Reed said Ukrainian forces have fought courageously. "We must help Ukraine to defend itself against Russian aggression," he said.

"We cannot let Vladimir Putin get away with invading another sovereign country. ... This is what we should do, lethal assistance," Nelson added.

"We should always be on the side of struggling democracies," Graham said. "Helping a friend somewhere makes friends of America everywhere feel better."

Blumenthal called Putin "a thug."

"He has not responded to sanctions. Sanctions are not working," he said.

"He is the schoolyard bully," added Ayotte. "I am so glad we've come together on a bipartisan basis to do this."

Donnelly calle Ukraine a "friend" of the United States and said providing arms "is the least that we can do." 

Meanwhile, the letter from the House members urged the administration to provide "a substantial amount of military assistance as soon as possible in 2015," and in the following years.

That assistance should include non-lethal aid such as counterbattery radars, drones, electronic counter-measures against Russian drones, secure communications capabilities, armored Humvees and medical equipment, they said. 

Lethal aid should include light anti-armor missiles, "given the large numbers of armored vehicles that the Russians have deployed in Donetsk and Luhansk and the abysmal condition of the Ukrainian military’s light anti-armor weapons," the letter said. 

The letter was also signed by Reps. Steny Hoyer (D-Md), Michael BurgessMichael Clifton BurgessHarvey response puts squeeze on GOP Medicaid efficiency is needed now, more than ever In the politics of healthcare reform, past is prologue MORE (R-Texas), Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyDemocrats cheer the end of voter fraud commission Democrat: 'Fraudulent' voter fraud commission got ugly death it deserved 8.8 million sign up for ObamaCare, nearly matching last year MORE (D-Va), Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Michael FitzpatrickMichael (Mike) G. FitzpatrickPelosi: Mexico should not worry about Trump House lawmakers ask for answers on cooked ISIS intel allegations The Republicans who nearly derailed the THUD bill MORE (R-Penn.), Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), David Jolly (R-Fla.), Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), Mike Kelly  (R-Penn.), John Larson (D-Conn.), Sander Levin (D-Mich.), Daniel Lipinsky (D-Ill.), Thomas Marino (R-Penn.), Michael McCaul (R-Texas), Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), Tim Murphy (R-Penn.), Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.), Robert Pittenger (R-N.C.), Ted PoeLloyd (Ted) Theodore PoeWith coordinated US action, Iran's expansionist strategy will backfire Overnight Defense: Judge orders Pentagon to accept transgender recruits on Jan. 1 | Trump eyes sending American astronauts back to moon | GOP reps want Iran sanctions over Yemen war GOP lawmakers call for Iran sanctions over its role in Yemen MORE (R-Texas), Reid RibbleReid James RibbleWith Trump, conservatives hope for ally in 'War on Christmas' GOP rushes to embrace Trump House stays Republican as GOP limits losses MORE (R-Wisc.), Thomas Rooney (R-Fla.), Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), David SchweikertDavid SchweikertFive obstacles to Trump's infrastructure ambitions The Hill's Whip List: Where Republicans stand on tax-reform bill GOP Senate hopeful Kelli Ward leads challengers in internal poll MORE (R-Ariz.), John Shimkus (R-Ill.), Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithPentagon audit to cost 7M in 2018 Overnight Energy: Regulators kill Perry plan to boost coal, nuclear | 2017 sets new record for disaster costs | Cliven Bundy walks free US sets new cost record for major disasters MORE (D-Wash.), Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), and Michael Turner (R-Ohio). The non-voting member from Guam, Del. Madeleine BordalloMadeleine Mary Bordallo5 things to know about Guam Guam delegate: Constituents 'very concerned' about North Korea threat A guide to the committees: House MORE (D), also signed.

"We know that a resolution to the Ukrainian crisis will ultimate require a diplomatic, not military, solution," the letter said. 
 
"But Russia is feeling emboldened, and Ukraine is economically stretched to its breaking point. It is time to provide the Ukrainiain government with the tools to keep the separatists at bay and to make the conflict too costly for their Russians patrons to continue."
 
Separately, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerSenate campaign fundraising reports roll in Congress should take the lead on reworking a successful Iran deal North Korea tensions ease ahead of Winter Olympics MORE (R-Tenn.) urged President Obama in a letter Thursday to fully implement a law passed last year, which requires him to report to Congress by Feb. 15 on plans to provide weapons to Ukraine.  
 
“We hope the administration will submit a report to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee later this month that clearly states your readiness to supply appropriate lethal assistance to the Ukrainian government and provides details of the specific weapons to be delivered,” said Corker, a co-author of the bill. 
 
This story was updated at 3:36 p.m.