US Lawmakers Divided on Latest Biden Russia Sanctions
VOA News – Katherine Gypson & Myroslava Gongadze
WASHINGTON — While U.S. lawmakers have come together to condemn Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, their response to the Biden administration’s latest sanctions remains divided along party lines.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi praised U.S. President Joe Biden’s Thursday remarks responding to the largest military offensive in Europe in more than 70 years.
“President Biden has made clear throughout Russia’s escalation that we will continue to impose costs on Russia that will leave it weakened in every way. These include the further steps announced today of sweeping and catastrophic sanctions on financial institutions, companies and individuals critical to the Russian economy and of further military support to bolster NATO,” Pelosi said in a statement.
In a speech late Wednesday, Putin rationalized the unprovoked attack on the independent eastern European nation, claiming without evidence that a genocide was occurring in Ukraine and calling for the “de-Nazification” of the country, which is led by an elected Jewish president.
But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Biden was too late in announcing that the United States would limit exports to Russia and sanction more Russian elites. Putin himself was not included.
“The president should have exercised his extensive authorities to impose certain tough sanctions early enough to actually deter invasion and weaken Russia. We should have ensured that the pipeline of lethal aid to Ukraine was flowing far sooner. And we should have sent more reinforcements to support NATO’s eastern flank allies earlier,” McConnell said in a statement Thursday.
Senator Jim Risch, the top-ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Putin’s bombardment of cities in Ukraine were “the actions of a madman.”
In a formal statement, Risch said he would move immediately to pass the NYET Act, his Russian sanctions legislation, when the U.S. Congress returns to Washington next Monday.
“Diplomacy has failed. Those of us who called for more definitive action from the Biden administration and our allies have unfortunately been proven right. We cannot afford to wait any longer. We must take decisive action,” Risch said.
Earlier this year, both Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Menendez and Risch introduced legislation sanctioning Russia for a possible invasion of Ukraine.
As Putin massed troops at the Ukraine border in recent weeks, U.S. lawmakers struggled to reach an agreement on sanctions legislation. Republicans favored triggering sanctions earlier to deter Putin, while Democrats favored the Biden administration approach of working in concert with European allies to negotiate a diplomatic solution.
Now that a full-scale Russian invasion has begun, there are several options at the disposal of lawmakers, including $750 million in aid for Ukraine in the 2022 omnibus spending bill, and as much as $1 billion in humanitarian aid.
Republican Representative Brian Fitzpatrick, co-author of bipartisan Russia sanctions legislation in the House of Representatives, told VOA Thursday the U.S. should provide Ukraine with everything it asks for, “from weaponry to financing, to intelligence support. Anything they need.”
“Second, we need to cripple Russia’s economy. We need to target their energy sector. We need to target Vladimir Putin himself with sanctions, his inner circle with sanctions, his inner circle’s family members — many of whom live in the U.S., including Sergey Lavrov’s daughter (who) lives in Manhattan,” Fitzpatrick said.
“There’s a lot of people here, right, that we can sanction. Sanction every member of the Duma who voted in violation of the Minsk Agreement. And Nord Stream 2 is now dead, and we need to keep it dead. And we need to kick them off the SWIFT banking system,” Fitzpatrick said.
Congress is on recess this week, but lawmakers were to receive an unclassified phone briefing from administration officials later Thursday.
House Foreign Affairs Committee lead Republican Michael McCaul and House Armed Services Committee lead Republican Mike Rogers released a statement Thursday calling for harsher sanctions on Putin.
“These actions are a far cry from the ‘swift and severe’ and ‘unprecedented’ sanctions President Biden promised for months. Secondary sanctions on major Russian banks and penalties on key industries are needed to help ensure the Putin regime is made an international pariah,” the statement said. “However, we are concerned that President Biden is holding additional U.S. penalties in reserve. The people of Ukraine do not have the luxury of time.”
Congressional Democrats praised Biden’s efforts to work in concert with European and Asian allies to deliver sanctions that will have a severe impact on the Russian economy.
“President Biden is trying to gather the world to try and hit the Russians extremely hard. And that’s what I think we saw today,” Democratic Representative Colin Allred told VOA, “These are extremely difficult and crippling sanctions. We want to isolate Russia. We want to make them an international pariah for this act. We want to cripple their economy. We want to exact as much pain from them as possible, while also understanding that we may be dealing with a leader in Vladimir Putin who may not care about that.”
While some members of both the Republican and Democratic parties have expressed concern about the U.S. being drawn into a ground conflict in Ukraine, Biden has repeatedly stated the U.S. will not commit its own troops to the conflict.
VOA’s Myroslava Gongadze contributed to this report.