- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 20, 2022

Republican lawmakers are ripping President Biden‘s remarks about a possible Russian incursion into Ukraine as “nothing short of a disaster,” and saying the White House attempt to clean it up is falling flat.

Rep. Michael T. McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the president “clearly gave Vladimir Putin the green light to launch a ‘minor incursion.’”

“American credibility with our allies and adversaries alike is hanging in the balance,” he said. “Rather than promising to act only in the event of a major renewed invasion, what is needed is strong U.S. leadership to rally a punishing response to Vladimir Putin‘s aggression right now.”

Rep. Mike Rogers, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee from Alabama, said Mr. Biden‘s reflected the administration’s “incoherent and disjointed” handling of the crisis from the outset.

“The White House has slow-rolled lethal aid to Ukraine and foot-dragged on approvals for our allies to do the same,” he said. “We’re staring down the barrel of an Afghanistan-in-Europe disaster, and everyone appears to see it coming but Joe Biden.”

The White House quickly moved to rephrase Mr. Biden‘s remark that there was uncertainty about how the West would respond to a “minor incursion” by Russia into Ukraine, where100,000 Russian troops are massed on the border.

SEE ALSO: Biden says any Russian incursion into Ukraine will be considered an invasion

Mr. Biden said later on Thursday that any Russian move into Ukraine would be considered an “invasion” and met with severe reprisals.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki issued a statement pledging a “swift, severe and untied response from the United States and our Allies” should “Russian military forces move across the Ukrainian border.”

Vice President Kamala Harris also doubled down on the administration’s commitment to levying severe costs on the Kremlin for aggression into Ukraine.

“We are clear and have been clear for quite some time that our first approach and priority and preference is that the issues could be resolved diplomatically,” Ms. Harris said on NBC’s “Today.” “We also have been clear and continue to be clear that if Russia takes aggressive action, it will be met with severe costs.”

Mr. McCaul, Texas Republican, said the efforts to clean up Mr. Biden‘s initial statements were an even further distraction.

“I fear this President is not up to the task and he is inviting aggression, not deterring it,” he said.

despite the White House’s attempts to clear up the remarks, Mr. Biden‘s disjointed message will continue to linger and could further embolden Mr. Putin, said John E. Herbst, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who now serves as senior director of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center.

“I think it’s important that in order to leave no doubt in my mind about American policy we need to act right now,” he said.

Republicans have pressed the administration to take a more aggressive stance toward the Kremlin in the face of the troop buildup along its border with Ukraine. They say the administration should impose immediate costs, rather than wait for Russia to escalate further.

Last week, the administration lobbied against a Senate measure to slap immediate sanctions on Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline into Germany. The administration said passing the sanctions would take a key bargaining chip off the table in its negotiations with Moscow.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert C. Menendez, New Jersey Democrat, introduced a measure that would impose sanctions on Russia in the event of an invasion, offering Democrats a tough-on-Russia alternative to the immediate sanctions.

Republicans said Mr. Biden has taken a weak stance on Russia and the U.S. needs to act immediately before the Kremlin gains more leverage.

“This administration must be clear that ANY Putin move into Ukraine is unacceptable, and we should do more to impose costs on him,” said Sen. James M. Inhofe, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee from Oklahoma.

• Joseph Clark can be reached at jclark@washingtontimes.com.

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