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 McCainTrump blasts McCain, bemoans not getting 'thank you' for funeral Trump's approval rating stable at 45 percent GOP senator: Trump's criticism of McCain 'deplorable' 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 ReedOvernight Defense: Pentagon lists construction projects at risk from emergency declaration | Officials deny report on leaving 1,000 troops in Syria | Spy budget request nears B Pentagon sends Congress list of projects that could lose funds to Trump's emergency declaration Overnight Defense: Senate rejects border emergency in rebuke to Trump | Acting Pentagon chief grilled on wall funding | Warren confronts chief over war fund budget MORE (D-R.I.), and Sens. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeThe Hill's Morning Report - Dems look to rebuild 'blue wall' Funding caps, border wall set stage for defense budget battle Trump's claims of defeating ISIS roil Congress MORE (R-Okla.), Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonEx-House Intel chair: Intel panel is wrong forum to investigate Trump's finances The Hill's Morning Report - Trump budget reignites border security fight 2020 party politics in Puerto Rico MORE (D-Fla.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamMcConnell calls McCain a 'rare patriot' and 'American hero' after Trump criticism The Hill's Morning Report - Trump, Dems put manufacturing sector in 2020 spotlight GOP steps up attack over tech bias claims MORE (R-S.C.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteSchultz recruiting GOP insiders ahead of possible 2020 bid Bottom Line US, allies must stand in united opposition to Iran’s bad behavior MORE (R-N.H.), Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyLobbying World Lobbying World Overnight Energy: Trump taps ex-oil lobbyist Bernhardt to lead Interior | Bernhardt slams Obama officials for agency's ethics issues | Head of major green group steps down MORE (D-Ind.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonSenate rejects border declaration in major rebuke of Trump Hillicon Valley: Doctors press tech to crack down on anti-vax content | Facebook, Instagram suffer widespread outages | Spotify hits Apple with antitrust complaint | FCC rejects calls to delay 5G auction Senate votes to confirm Neomi Rao to appeals court 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 SchiffDems request probe into spa owner suspected of trying to sell access to Trump Dems fear Trump is looking at presidential pardons The Hill's Morning Report — Trump readies first veto after latest clash with Senate GOP 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 KerryBiden leads CNN poll, but Harris, Sanders on the rise Beto is the poor man's Obama — Dems can do better Joe Biden could be a great president, but can he win? 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 BurgessDivisions emerge over House drug price bills Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Dems push Pelosi on bill allowing federal funding of abortion | Key Republican says Dems left him out of drug pricing talks | Court upholds Ohio law to defund Planned Parenthood | Trump taps acting FDA chief Key Republican says Dems left him out of process on drug pricing bills MORE (R-Texas), Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyHouse passes series of measures hitting Russia, Putin Exclusive: Biden to run for White House, says Dem lawmaker Dems struggle to turn page on Omar controversy 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 PoeTexas New Members 2019 Cook shifts two House GOP seats closer to Dem column Five races to watch in the Texas runoffs MORE (R-Texas), Reid RibbleReid James RibbleSetting the record straight about No Labels With Trump, conservatives hope for ally in 'War on Christmas' GOP rushes to embrace Trump MORE (R-Wisc.), Thomas Rooney (R-Fla.), Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), David SchweikertDavid SchweikertOn The Money: Trump trade chief sees tough work ahead on China | Cohen offers gripping testimony | Tells lawmakers Trump inflated assets | Deduction cap could hit 11 million taxpayers | Senate confirms top IRS lawyer Trump trade chief warns of tough work ahead on China deal The Hill's 12:30 Report: Sanders set to shake up 2020 race MORE (R-Ariz.), John Shimkus (R-Ill.), Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithActing Pentagon chief says he hasn't 'walked through' Space Force proposal with skeptical Dem chairman A Weld challenge to Trump would provide Republicans a clear choice House Armed Services chair denounces new limits on transgender service members 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 CorkerTrump keeps tight grip on GOP Brexit and exit: A transatlantic comparison Sasse’s jabs at Trump spark talk of primary challenger 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.