Capitol Hill Grapples with Limited Options on Ukraine Crisis

Capitol Hill Grapples with Limited Options on Ukraine Crisis

“Russia, whatever they’re doing right now, is not the Soviet Union,” said Washington Democratic Rep. Adam Smith yesterday at a discussion of the U.S. defense budget. Although most of his congressional colleagues would likely agree with that statement, there is no consensus on Capitol Hill about how to respond to a crisis in Ukraine that appears to leave the United States with few options. And while the differences in large part follow party lines, internal divisions within each camp have also surfaced.

Democrats appear to generally support, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, the Obama administration’s approach of gradually increasing pressure on Russia while avoiding a more high-profile showdown with President Vladimir Putin. There have been some exceptions, however. Connecticut Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, for instance, has advocated a more aggressive response, including giving Georgia a NATO membership action plan, whereby NATO would provide advice and assistance to the country; a MAP is a necessary but not sufficient step to joining the alliance. Murphy also called for reaffirming U.S. support for NATO enlargement as a response to Russian actions.

Republicans are more divided. While many GOP lawmakers continue to reflexively call for a strong response to Russian aggression, sometimes with rhetoric reminiscent of Ronald Reagan’s branding of the Soviet Union as an “evil empire,” others have different priorities. Republican congressional newcomers especially tend to focus almost exclusively on domestic economic issues and the need to reduce what they portray as an overly large and burdensome federal government.

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