When last we left things, the Senate overwhelmingly voted 78 to 17 to invoke cloture and move to a vote on a tough measure that invoked sanctions on Russia and extended a variety of types of economic aid to Ukraine. Conservative Republicans raised a rumpus over inclusion of International Monetary Fund quota reforms, but in the end senators like Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) recognized the priority here is getting something out of the Senate and a bill on the president’s desk. (Surely the IMF issue can be dealt with promptly without disrupting Ukraine aid since it is not, contrary to right-wing hysterics a dastardly international plot.)
The action now shifts to the House. There Democrats are frustrated with the White House’s insistence on putting the IMF measure into the Ukraine bill, and Republicans are determined to pass a bill that includes not only aid to Ukraine (which they have passed once before) but also tough sanctions. At a press conference, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) explained, “The House has acted once already. We’re going to act again later on this week to help the Ukrainians and to put sanctions on President Putin. And what the Senate ought to be doing is taking up our bills and just moving them. What they’re trying to do here is bring unrelated items into this debate, all it’s going to do is slow the whole process down. So, I would hope that we would find a common ground, pass it, so that we can help our friends.”
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who is increasingly seen as a deal-maker in the House, supports swift action. His spokesman told Right Turn: “Congressman Ryan voted for the Ukraine package that went through the House and supports the U.S. sending a strong signal that Russian aggression will be met with concrete costs. The fastest way to get this bill to the president’s desk is for the Senate to pass it.” It is noteworthy that back home in his district last week, Ryan made a strong appeal to stop foolish cuts in defense: “Ryan, who is mentioned frequently as a potential presidential candidate, said defense should be the federal government’s top priority and any further cuts in military spending would put the U.S. at a disadvantage in foreign affairs. ‘I really think that what that does is it sends the wrong signals to the world. . . . It sends signals to the Chinese that our military is shrinking and therefore they have an incentive to catch up to us.'” And he spoke up in favor of a tougher line on Ukraine, telling home-state voters, that the meager measures President Obama already signed aren’t “going to bite hard enough” and arguing that “We should show the Europeans that America, with these vast new energy reserves we have, is going to be a willing partner with Europe in supplying natural gas to them. That would threaten Putin’s grip on their energy sector and his revenues.”
In sum, what we see is sober and increasingly forceful leadership from House and Senate Republicans to meet the crisis head on. Remarkably, the aid and sanctions have gotten lukewarm support from the White House, which seems distracted and/or wary of imposing additional measures on Putin. It is hard to lead from Congress on foreign policy, but not impossible. Slowly the Republicans — with a good deal of Democratic support — seem to be maneuvering around the White House and anti-interventionists on the far right ( Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) was one of the 17 to vote to hang up the Senate version of the Ukraine sanctions bill) and left. That’s all to the good — for the party, the country and the West.