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 McCainOvernight Defense: GOP lawmaker takes unannounced trip to Syria | Taliban leader pens New York Times op-ed on peace talks | Cheney blasts paper for publishing op-ed GOP lawmaker makes unannounced trip to northeastern Syria Meghan McCain after Gaetz says Trump should pardon Roger Stone: 'Oh come on' 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) Francis ReedLawmakers wary as US on cusp of initial deal with Taliban Pavlich: The Senate defends its integrity Five Senate Democrats make impeachment case in Spanish MORE (D-R.I.), and Sens. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeGOP chairman after Africa trip: US military drawdown would have 'real and lasting negative consequences' Overnight Energy: Controversial Trump adviser reportedly returning to EPA | Delta aims to be first carbon neutral airline | Dem senator gives EPA D-minus on 'forever chemicals' Architect of controversial EPA policies to return as chief of staff: report MORE (R-Okla.), Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonThe most expensive congressional races of the last decade Lobbying world Bottom Line MORE (D-Fla.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSunday shows preview: 2020 candidates look to South Carolina Where do we go from here? Conservation can show the way Barr to attend Senate GOP lunch on Tuesday MORE (R-S.C.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteOn the Trail: Senate GOP hopefuls tie themselves to Trump GOP fears Trump backlash in suburbs Trump makes rare trip to Clinton state, hoping to win back New Hampshire MORE (R-N.H.), Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyGinsburg health scare raises prospect of election year Supreme Court battle Watchdog accuses pro-Kavanaugh group of sending illegal robotexts in 2018 Lobbying world MORE (D-Ind.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonSunday shows preview: 2020 Democrats jockey for top spot ahead of Nevada caucuses Senate votes to rein in Trump's power to attack Iran Coronavirus poses risks for Trump in 2020 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 SchiffSchiff blasts Trump for making 'false claims' about Russia intel: 'You've betrayed America. Again.' Trump: Nevada a 'great win' for Sanders Trump's Intel moves spark Democratic fury 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 KerryJohn Kerry: Democratic debate 'was something of a food fight' Kerry responds to Trump accusation he violated Logan Act: 'Another presidential lie' Mellman: Primary elections aren't general elections 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 BurgessOvernight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — Juul pitched products to Native American tribes | Vaping execs deny deliberately targeting young people | Republicans seek hearing on Medicaid block grants Overnight Health Care: Big Pharma looks to stem losses after trade deal defeat | House panel to examine federal marijuana policies | House GOP reopens investigation into opioid manufacturers Lawmakers express alarm over rise in cocaine overdose deaths MORE (R-Texas), Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward Connolly'Liberated' Pelosi bashes Trump — and woos Democratic base Trump's best week ever? Trump set to confront his impeachment foes 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 GOP lawmakers, officials ask court to enforce House subpoena on McGahn Keep our elections free and fair Setting the record straight about No Labels MORE (R-Wisc.), Thomas Rooney (R-Fla.), Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), David SchweikertDavid SchweikertOvernight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — Democrats seek to preempt Trump message on health care | E-cigarette executives set for grilling | Dems urge emergency funding for coronavirus Democrats slam GOP on drug prices in bilingual digital ads Overnight Defense: House passes bills to rein in Trump on Iran | Pentagon seeks Iraq's permission to deploy missile defenses | Roberts refuses to read Paul question on whistleblower during impeachment trial MORE (R-Ariz.), John Shimkus (R-Ill.), Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithOvernight Defense: Dem senator met with Iranian foreign minister | Meeting draws criticism from right | Lawmakers push back at Pentagon funding for wall Lawmakers push back at Trump's Pentagon funding grab for wall Top Armed Services Republican: Pentagon using .8B on border wall 'requires Congress to take action' 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 CorkerMcConnell, Romney vie for influence over Trump's trial RNC says ex-Trump ambassador nominee's efforts 'to link future contributions to an official action' were 'inappropriate' Lindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight 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.