Republicans and Democrats in the US Senate criticized the administration for not acting immediately to help move planes to Ukraine, referring to the daylight emerging between Congress and the White House on Ukraine after weeks of unity on Capitol Hill.
Members on both sides of the aisle during a Foreign Relations Committee hearing this morning defied the administration about why the United States was not helping facilitate aircraft access to Ukraine that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said was badly needed. They warned that Congress could take further action on banning Russian energy imports that exceed what the House has approved and are backed by President Joe Biden’s administration.
“It’s not clear why we’re standing in the way,” Senator Jane Shaheen, a Democrat from New Hampshire, told CNN about the US position that it would not be appropriate to send planes to Poland until Poland can move its planes to Ukraine.
Over the past several days, members have come to believe that Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken share differing views on how to handle a potential transfer of aircraft to Poland that would make it easier for Poland to move aircraft directly to Ukraine, a difference that angered some members. Capitol Hill who came to see the same administration as divided.
Senator Jim Risch, the top Republican on the Committee on Foreign Relations, told CNN that the split was “embarrassing.”
“The first branch of government is almost unanimous on this. I don’t know who is against this here, but it is embarrassing that the second branch of government is being divided. This is a job for the President of the United States. It needs escalation. Hit heads together and get everyone in the same place,” Rich said. “We really need to do this. This is a matter of life and death.”
Rich said the Pentagon’s explanation that moving the plane could be seen as escalatory by the Russians is “nonsense.”
“We take their yachts, we take their possessions for the holidays, we give the Ukrainians all the weapons we can give them. It would be foolish to say that somehow this would aggravate them. That is nonsense,” he said.
Republican Senator Rob Portman, who has been outspoken on the issue, told CNN that he believed it was not the Biden administration’s place to make decisions for Ukraine about what their military strategy should be and whether they wanted planes, and the United States needed to do everything it could to help them.
The administration has just told us that it believes Ukraine needs more other things and will be more effective on the battlefield. In theory, that means you have the US government deciding what the military strategy for Ukraine should be,” Portman said. Ukraine wants the planes. They made a decision.
However, some Democrats argue that Congress should give the administration more room to make decisions about how they want to deal with this conflict without a “micromanagement.”
“I generally trust the administration’s decision-making,” Senator Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, told CNN. “I think this is the time when we should be falling behind in management rather than constantly guessing.”
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