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Lawmakers strike bipartisan note to condemn Putin, call for more sanctions

In a show of unity, Republican and Democratic lawmakers swiftly condemned Russia’s military attack against Ukraine and vowed to inflict economic pain on President Vladimir Putin by imposing a torrent of punishing new sanctions.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., said she wants Russia cut off from the SWIFT international banking system. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called on international law enforcement to target Putin and his allies by seizing their “lavish apartments, fine art, yachts” and other items. 

And Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., said the U.S. must continue to send financial support and arms to Ukraine as it defends itself against Russia. 

“Today’s invasion of Ukraine by Russia is a premeditated and flagrant act of war,” said Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee. “These are not the actions of a proud nation and people, but the actions of a desperate man whose only desire is to sow chaos in order to make himself look strong.”

His Democratic counterpart, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Menendez of New Jersey, said Putin’s “unprovoked attack” has underscored the need to blacklist the Russian president and “expel the current Kremlin leadership from the international community.”

“Today must mark a historical shift in how the world views and deals with the despot in Moscow,” Menendez said.

Feb. 24, 202202:36

The flurry of statements and tweets from Capitol Hill came moments after Putin declared Thursday local time in a national televised address that Russia was launching a military operation to support the “demilitarization and denazification” of eastern Ukraine. Explosions could be heard in cities across the country, including in the capital of Kyiv, where emergency sirens sounded.

For the most part, Democrats and Republicans struck a bipartisan note, pressing Biden to go further in sanctioning Russia but reserving their fury for Putin.

“Following news of Putin’s further invasion of Ukraine with enormous concern and anger,” tweeted Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, typically a vocal critic of Biden. “The US will stand with our Ukrainian allies, continue to provide them with arms to defend themselves, and work to counter Putin and hold accountable those responsible for this aggression.”

Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., who tweeted that he was attending a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly, said he was “listening to Russian lies about their support of Ukrainian people.” He questioned how Putin could claim that he wants to “de-Nazify” Ukraine when the country’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, is Jewish.

“Putin is a wild dog and won’t stop at Ukraine. Hitler didn’t stop at the Sudetenland. Learn from history!” Cohen tweeted. “The United States and all NATO must immediately provide as much military support as possible to the Baltic countries, to Poland, and other allies at risk.”

And the top Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs, Armed Services and Intelligence committees also took direct aim at Putin.

“The last few hours have laid bare for the world to witness the true evil that is Vladimir Putin. …” Reps. Mike McCaul, R-Texas, Mike Rogers, R-Ala., and Mike Turner, R-Ohio, said in a joint statement. “Every drop of Ukrainian and Russian blood spilled in this conflict is on Putin’s hands, and his alone.” 

Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., tweeted, “Russia has just become a pariah nation. Everything short of involving US forces should be done to punish this action. This should be unrelenting.”

Yet there were a handful of Republicans who placed the blame for the Russian attack at Biden’s feet.

“Joe Biden has shown nothing but weakness and indecision,” said Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., who’s considered a possible 2024 presidential candidate. “Now is the time to show strong purpose. Sanction Russia’s energy sector — the engine of its economy — to its knees and reopen American energy production full throttle.”

Sen. Bill Hagerty, R-Tenn., a former ambassador to Japan, tweeted that Biden’s strategy to prevent a war had failed. “Despite Ukrainian President Zelensky’s persistent call for pre-invasion sanctions, the Biden Administration chose to do nothing until it was too late and must now change course,” he wrote.

In a statement, Biden said Putin had “chosen a premeditated war” and vowed to unilaterally impose another round of crippling sanctions on Russia on Thursday, just two days after he had targeted Putin with an initial tranche of sanctions.

But any congressional action on sanctions will have to wait until at least next week when both House and Senate lawmakers return from their Presidents Day recess. 

In the meantime, top Biden administration officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, are planning to hold an unclassified phone briefing for senators Thursday on the developments in Ukraine. 

That will be followed by a separate briefing for House lawmakers.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other top Democrats have been comparing Putin’s military incursion to Adolf Hitler’s military advance during World War II, the last time there was a major war in Europe. 

“This is a momentous and tragic day when once again we see a dictator in Europe try to remake the map of Europe by using its military power,” House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said on MSNBC’s “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell.”