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 McCainGOP lawmakers slam secret agreement to help lift Iran bank sanctions Kerry: US 'on the verge' of suspending talks with Russia on Syria Trump, Clinton to headline Al Smith dinner 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 ReedJack ReedDemocrats press Wells Fargo CEO for more answers on scandal Senators already eyeing changes to 9/11 bill after veto override Overnight Finance: McConnell offers 'clean' funding bill | Dems pan proposal | Flint aid, internet measure not included | More heat for Wells Fargo | New concerns on investor visas MORE (D-R.I.), and Sens. James InhofeJames InhofeFunding bill rejected as shutdown nears Senate Dems: Add Flint aid to spending deal Shutdown risk grows over Flint MORE (R-Okla.), Bill NelsonBill NelsonElection-year politics: Senate Dems shun GOP vulnerables Overnight Finance: Senate rejects funding bill as shutdown looms | Labor Dept. to probe Wells Fargo | Fed to ease stress test rules for small banks Overnight Energy: Judges scrutinize Obama climate rule MORE (D-Fla.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamKerry: US 'on the verge' of suspending talks with Russia on Syria GOP leaders express reservations a day after 9/11 veto override McConnell opens door to changing 9/11 bill MORE (R-S.C.), Richard BlumenthalRichard BlumenthalOvernight Tech: FCC chief downplays delay to TV box reforms | Lawsuit filed over internet transition | Waze rolls out ridehailing service Anti-trade senators say chamber would be crazy to pass TPP Leahy wants Judiciary hearing on Yahoo MORE (D-Conn.), Kelly AyotteKelly AyotteGOP senator: Block cash payments to state terror sponsors The Trail 2016: Just a little kick Abortion rights group ads tie vulnerable GOP senators to Trump MORE (R-N.H.), Joe DonnellyJoe DonnellyOvernight Finance: Senate rejects funding bill as shutdown looms | Labor Dept. to probe Wells Fargo | Fed to ease stress test rules for small banks Overnight Energy: Judges scrutinize Obama climate rule Funding bill rejected as shutdown nears MORE (D-Ind.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), Tom CottonTom CottonGOP lawmakers slam secret agreement to help lift Iran bank sanctions Opposition to Obama's radical disarmament agenda has proven effective Fears mount that Obama will change course on Israel in final months 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 SchiffWH tried to stop Intel Dems' statement on Russian hacking: report Week ahead: Election hacks, Yahoo breach in the spotlight Overnight Tech: Pressure builds ahead of TV box vote | Intel Dems warn about Russian election hacks | Spending bill doesn't include internet measure 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 KerryLong-running US efforts on the ballot with Colombian peace vote White House strikes 'Israel' from transcript of Jerusalem speech UN to investigate Syria aid convoy bombing 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 BurgessCommerce, Manufacturing and Trade Subcommittee pursues an active agenda Lawmakers press concerns over fuel efficiency rules Conservative committee wants House to vote first on funding bill MORE (R-Texas), Gerry ConnollyGerry ConnollySetting the record straight on Crimea Overnight Cybersecurity: Fallout from Yahoo's massive breach | House panel holds Clinton IT aide in contempt | Privacy groups want WhatsApp probe Oversight Committee votes to hold Clinton IT aide in contempt of Congress MORE (D-Va), Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Michael FitzpatrickMichael 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 PoeTed PoeA clear signal on Georgia’s future Overnight Tech: Dem presses Facebook on gun sales | Praise for new librarian of Congress | Fourth Amendment Caucus to push privacy concerns Overnight Cybersecurity: Guccifer 2.0 releases more DNC docs; China hacked banking regulator MORE (R-Texas), Reid RibbleReid RibbleSanders-linked group endorses downballot Dems Super-PAC begins M effort to help House GOP Saving the Boomer's Social Security MORE (R-Wisc.), Thomas Rooney (R-Fla.), Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), David SchweikertDavid SchweikertThe Hill's 12:30 Report Former GOP congressman lobbying for electric cars Senate races heating up MORE (R-Ariz.), John Shimkus (R-Ill.), Adam SmithAdam SmithIncomes are rising, but don't trust GOP to make it a trend GOP rebuffs call to uphold Obama veto Senate poised to override Obama veto MORE (D-Wash.), Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), and Michael Turner (R-Ohio). The non-voting member from Guam, Del. Madeleine BordalloMadeleine BordalloDems urge treaty ratification after South China Sea ruling Dems push for allowing base closures Clinton wins Guam caucus 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 CorkerBob CorkerSyrian carnage likely to outlast Obama Overnight Defense: GOP leaders express concerns after 9/11 veto override | Lawmakers press for Syria 'plan B' | US touts anti-ISIS airstrikes Dem leaders defend overriding 9/11 bill veto 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.