POLITICS
03/03/2014 08:23 pm ET | Updated Mar 04, 2014

Congress Eyes Swift But Cautious Aid For Ukraine

WASHINGTON -- Congress appeared set Monday to move swiftly -- if cautiously -- to craft legislation aimed at the Ukraine crisis that could include $1 billion in aid and grant President Barack Obama greater authority to isolate Russia.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who noted that he doesn't usually weigh in on such matters, nevertheless backed the idea of moving quickly.

"I’m deeply concerned about what’s going on in the Ukraine," Reid said at a photo opportunity Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Capitol Hill. "I think Ukraine is in crisis and needs some help. I’m going to recommend that anything that we do be in conjunction with our allies. And President Obama said he wants to give some economic aid. I think that’s appropriate. I will be happy to help in any way."

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) announced that his committee was developing a bipartisan package that would authorize the $1 billion in aid for Ukraine, as well as technical assistance for energy reforms, support for elections and help in the recovery of stolen assets.

"Russia's military intervention in Ukraine constitutes a clear violation of international law and demands a swift and coordinated response from the international community to support the Ukraine and counter Russian efforts to annex Ukrainian territory by force," Menendez said in a statement.

Aides for Menendez and the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, said the plan would be debated Thursday and a measure could be marked up as soon as March 11.

Corker's aide said the package would be aimed at supporting "a peaceful, democratic transition in Ukraine and provide authority for measures that will isolate Russia internationally in an effort to halt their further military intervention in Ukraine."

A letter sent by Corker and 11 other Senate committee members to Obama on Friday outlined a number of the options on the table.

"We are prepared to work with your administration to reinforce your efforts by authorizing U.S. loan guarantees to Ukraine and increasing assistance to facilitate a peaceful transition of power," the letter said. "We also believe that the U.S. should make use of the tools at its disposal, including targeted sanctions and asset recovery targeting corruption, to dissuade individuals who would foment unrest to undermine Ukraine's territorial integrity or employ coercive economic measures against the Ukrainian people and the new Ukrainian government."

Menendez said in his announcement that the committee is consulting with the administration on possible sanctions against Russian and Ukrainian individuals involved in the crisis. Such measures would range from "visa bans and asset freezes, to the suspension of military cooperation and sales, as well as economic sanctions."

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said the lower chamber will develop and review an assistance package of its own, adding that there was "bipartisan support" for taking swift action. Cantor also expressed support for sanctions against Russian officials complicit in their country's efforts "to invade and interfere with Ukraine’s sovereign affairs."

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said in a statement earlier on Monday that his committee would “press for a quick and vigorous U.S. response." Speaking on CNN, he seemed to shy away from military options, favoring working with European allies. "I would take NATO off the table there," Royce said. "It's in cooperation with the Europeans."

A House Foreign Affairs Committee aide said the State Department would be presenting a legislative request for a loan guarantee to the committee on Tuesday.

Obama said Monday that he hoped it would be "the first order of business" for lawmakers to develop an aid package for Ukraine once they returned to Washington. (Congress' schedule was delayed due to bad weather.)

"I’ve heard a lot of talk from Congress about what should be done, what they want to do," Obama said. "One thing they can do right away is to work with the administration to help provide a package of assistance to the Ukrainians, to the people and that government."

"At this stage, there should be unanimity among Democrats and Republicans that when it comes to preserving the principle that no country has the right to send in troops to another country unprovoked, we should be able to come up with a unified position that stands outside of partisan politics," the president added. "And my expectation is, is that I’ll be able to get Congress to work with us in order to achieve that goal."

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