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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 McCainBudowsky: Liz Cheney vs. conservatives in name only Cheney slams Trump on 'big lie' over election Exclusive — Cruz, Rubio ramp up criticisms of big business 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 ReedOvernight Defense: Gillibrand makes new push for military sexual assault reform | US troops begin leaving Afghanistan | Biden budget delay pushes back annual defense policy bill Biden budget delay pushes back annual defense policy bill Senate Democrats push Biden over raising refugee cap MORE (D-R.I.), and Sens. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Senate nixes Trump rule limiting methane regulation | Senate confirms EPA chief: Biden's climate goals are 'an opportunity to lead' | Fine-particle pollution disproportionately hurts people of color: research EPA chief: Biden's climate goals are 'an opportunity to lead' Senate confirms Pentagon policy chief criticized by Republicans for tweets MORE (R-Okla.), Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonCrist launches bid for Florida governor, seeking to recapture his old job The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by ExxonMobil - Trump, Cheney trade jabs The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Emergent BioSolutions - Biden sales pitch heads to Virginia and Louisiana MORE (D-Fla.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamMichael Flynn flubs words to Pledge of Allegiance at pro-Trump rally Police reform talks ramp up amid pressure from Biden, families Victims' relatives hold Capitol Hill meetings to push police reform MORE (R-S.C.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteSununu seen as top recruit in GOP bid to reclaim Senate Lobbying world Overnight Defense: NATO expanding troops in Iraq MORE (R-N.H.), Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyRepublicans fret over divisive candidates Everybody wants Joe Manchin Centrist Democrats pose major problem for progressives MORE (D-Ind.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonOpposition to refugees echoes one of America's most shameful moments White House defends CDC outreach to teachers union Allowing a racist slur against Tim Scott to trend confirms social media's activist bias 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 SchiffGender politics hound GOP in Cheney drama Senate Intel vows to 'get to the bottom' of 'Havana syndrome' attacks Federal investigators search Giuliani apartment 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 KerryOvernight Energy: Republicans request documents on Kerry's security clearance process| EPA official directs agency to ramp up enforcement in overburdened communities | Meet Flint prosecutor Kym Worthy Republicans request documents on Kerry's security clearance process Feehery: Biden seems intent on repeating the same mistakes of Jimmy Carter 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 BurgessAmericans have decided to give professionals a chance Six ways to visualize a divided America Capitol Police tribute turns political MORE (R-Texas), Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyBiden offers traditional address in eerie setting Overnight Defense: Top Pentagon nominee advances after Harris casts tie-breaker | Air Force general charged with sexual assault first to face court-martial | House passes bill to limit Saudi arms sales House passes bill limiting arms sales to Saudi Arabia over Khashoggi killing MORE (D-Va), Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Michael FitzpatrickMichael (Mike) G. FitzpatrickFormer Pennsylvania Rep. Fitzpatrick dead at 56 Pelosi: Mexico should not worry about Trump House lawmakers ask for answers on cooked ISIS intel allegations 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 PoeSheila Jackson Lee tops colleagues in House floor speaking days over past decade Senate Dem to reintroduce bill with new name after 'My Little Pony' confusion Texas New Members 2019 MORE (R-Texas), Reid RibbleReid James RibbleFormer Sen. Tom Coburn dies at 72 Ex-GOP lawmakers side with NY in Supreme Court case over Trump tax returns Former GOP lawmakers, officials ask court to enforce House subpoena on McGahn MORE (R-Wisc.), Thomas Rooney (R-Fla.), Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), David SchweikertDavid SchweikertBiden meets with bipartisan senators to discuss potential infrastructure bill Lawmakers offer competing priorities for infrastructure plans The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Which path will Democrats take on COVID-19 bill? MORE (R-Ariz.), John Shimkus (R-Ill.), Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithBiden budget delay pushes back annual defense policy bill F-35 cockpit upgrade has 4 million cost overrun Democrats reintroduce bill to block US from using nuclear weapons first MORE (D-Wash.), Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), and Michael Turner (R-Ohio). The non-voting member from Guam, Del. Madeleine BordalloMadeleine Mary BordalloThis week: Lawmakers return to mourn George H.W. Bush Guam New Members 2019 Overnight Defense: VA pick breezes through confirmation hearing | House votes to move on defense bill negotiations | Senate bill would set 'stringent' oversight on North Korea talks 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 CorkerThe Republicans' deep dive into nativism Fox News inks contributor deal with former Democratic House member Senate GOP faces retirement brain drain 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.