- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 23, 2014

President Obama will try to forge a consensus on Ukraine when he meets this week with top allies in Europe, but he has had trouble winning unity even back home, where Democrats and Republicans are sparring over the outlines of U.S. policy, including military and financial aid.

Republicans and Democrats in Congress agree on the need to pass legislation showing a unified front against Russian President Vladimir Putin, and party leaders generally concur on the outlines, but add-ons and tangential fights have left them gridlocked.

Mr. Obama is under increasing bipartisan pressure to deliver military aid to Ukraine’s nascent government. His advisers are saying only that the president is considering such a step.

“I think we could do more in terms of communications equipment that we can help them with, technical assistance. In addition to that, they’ve put in a request for us in NATO for some small arms,” Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a New Hampshire Republican who is traveling in Ukraine, told CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “I think there are some things that we could do that don’t involve our boots on the ground but really help them also stand up and help their military really at this time.”

Tensions remain high in Ukraine, where an air force commander was detained after his base in Crimea, which Russia annexed last week, was stormed by pro-Russian forces, according to an Associated Press report. In Donetsk, the principal city in the pro-Russian Donbass area of eastern Ukraine, about 5,000 people demonstrated Sunday in favor of a referendum on secession and absorption into Russia — the same scenario this month in Crimea.

With that backdrop, senators will hold a first test vote Monday evening on a plan that would extend loan guarantees to Ukraine, push for broader sanctions against Russia and increase the quota of U.S. aid to the International Monetary Fund.

SEE ALSO: Shots fired at Ukrainian air force base in Crimea blocked by Russians

But the House has overwhelmingly passed a bill that just involves $1 billion in U.S. loan guarantees. Republican leaders are hoping to push through another bill this week that would codify existing sanctions, push Mr. Obama to sanction others, boost American radio broadcasting into the region and require more scrutiny of Russian financial institutions.

“The U.S. and our European friends should be bolstering the sovereignty and independence of Ukraine. That means aiding Ukraine’s fledgling democracy, with its May elections looming, and bolstering its economy, including by helping break Putin’s energy grip over Eastern Europe,” said Rep. Edward R. Royce, California Republican and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which will vote Tuesday on the bill.

The key sticking point is the IMF quota.

Republicans contend it is a separate issue, and they fought it out in January when Mr. Obama last tried to increase the quota. At that point, Republicans insisted that the IMF quota be tied to a halt in Mr. Obama’s proposal to have the Internal Revenue Service crack down on nonprofit groups in the U.S. that want to spend money on issue advertising.

In January, both sides agreed to a truce. That now has ended.

The issue splits Republicans deeply.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who was the party’s 2008 presidential nominee, mercilessly mocked his colleagues two weeks ago when the Senate adjourned without passing the bill. Mr. McCain said he may not like the IMF changes but holding up the bill was a disservice to Ukraine.

“I have been embarrassed before on the floor of the Senate,” he said. “But I have not been embarrassed this way about members of my own party.”

Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican and a potential 2016 presidential candidate, also said his colleagues should drop the IMF fight and pass the bill.

On the other side are some Democratic dissenters. Rep. Nita M. Lowey of New York, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said she was surprised the Senate didn’t pass the straightforward loan guarantees that the House cleared and that could have been signed into law.

Despite Mr. McCain’s criticism, urgency hasn’t been apparent.

Both chambers of Congress are returning from 10-day recesses, and neither chamber has worked a full five-day week this year.

The White House shows no sign of backing down. Even as he was being questioned about military aid to Ukraine, Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken was shifting the subject Sunday back to the aid package in Congress — and highlighting the IMF portion.

“We’d like to get this loan guarantee done. Congress is coming back. We hope it’ll pass the loan guarantee and IMF quota reform,” he told CNN’s “State of the Union” program.

Even as he tries to corral lawmakers on Capitol Hill, Mr. Obama will be seeking similar unity overseas. Like in Washington, all sides agree on the need to roll back Mr. Putin’s advances but disagree on the steps that should be taken.

The president arrives in the Netherlands on Monday and will hold several one-on-one meetings with other leaders, including Chinese President Xi Jinping, before attending a Group of Seven nations meeting. The G-7 used to be known as the G-8, but the club of wealthy nations ousted Russia after its Ukrainian adventurism.

The rest of the week, Mr. Obama will visit Brussels, Rome and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.



Click to Read More

Click to Hide