House Republican leaders fast-tracked a $1 billion loan package to Ukraine on Thursday, just hours after President Obama publicly called on Congress to stop blustering about the crisis and act.
Under a streamlined process, the House of Representatives voted 385-23 to allow the administration to guarantee private-sectors loans to Kiev’s cash-strapped government. The move allows for previously appropriated funds for Jordan to be used to cover loan guarantees for Ukraine — but does not deal with the contentious issue of punitive measures against Russia. Legislation authorizing the sanctions could be taken up as early as Friday but is more likely to be debated next week.
The vote marks the first Congressional action to bolster Ukraine, which is undergoing a geopolitical crisis following Russia’s occupation of its Crimean peninsula. On Thursday, House leadership expressed frustration that it had taken heat for being a "do-nothing Congress," when it acted faster than the Democratically-controlled Senate.
"The president knew this was being voted on this afternoon and he goes into the Brady Room and says Congress has to act on my words?" a Republican House leadership aide said. "For God’s sake. We’re doing what you want."
In recent days, Washington has been consumed by finger-pointing over Moscow’s land grab in Ukraine, with partisans on both side accusing the other of perceived foreign-policy weaknesses.
On Thursday morning, the Obama administration imposed visa restrictions on unnamed Russian and Ukrainian officials and authorized financial sanctions against Moscow. It stopped short, though, of freezing any assets of Russian officials. In the run-up to the administration’s move, Republicans ranging from Arizona Senator John McCain to Virginia Congressman Eric Cantor criticized the president for failing to get tough with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"This is the ultimate result of a feckless foreign policy where nobody believes in America’s strength any more," said McCain.
But the fast-tracking of the Ukraine aide package caught off guard committee aides in the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who still planned to introduce legislation dealing with a range of Ukraine issues, including funding for election monitoring, the $1 billion loan guarantee and punitive sanctions. "We were certainly surprised," said a committee aide. Following today’s vote, the committee plans to introduce a separate piece of legislation that deals with those remaining issues.
The ball now is in the Senate’s court to hold a similar vote as the House or pass a broader piece of legislation dealing with a range of issues pertaining to Ukraine. "That’s what is being worked on and discussed now," said a senior Democratic aide.