Senate Panel Leaders Brutalize Administration on Russia: ‘I’m Embarrassed for Us’
Posted at 11:18 a.m. on July 9, 2014
Menendez and Corker listen to testimony from Secretary of State John Kerry during an April Senate Foreign Relations hearing about the fiscal 2015 international affairs budget proposal. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
To say that the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee are getting impatient with the Obama administration regarding its threats of harsher sanctions against Russia over Ukraine might be an understatement. Sample quote from a hearing Wednesday: “Our country acting like such a paper tiger to the world on this and so many other fronts is doing incredible long-term damage to our nation.”
That one came from Bob Corker, the top GOP member of the panel. He offered some of the more colorful quotes from the hearing, aimed at Obama administration officials: “I’m embarrassed for us,” for instance, or, to Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland, some sympathetic consoling that she has to “wake up, look in the mirror and practice talking tough.” He also criticized the administration’s “feckless sanctions policy” and “hollow threats.”
But the Democratic chairman of the committee wasn’t kind, either. In response to Nuland’s vow of Russian sanctions “very soon” if the country doesn’t improve its handling of Ukraine, New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, said, “I feel like we’ve heard that before.” He cited past demands, such as Russia endings support for separatists, under the threat of the advanced “sectoral” sanctions broadly targeting Russia’s energy and financial industries. “I look at what the standards are,” he said, “and I see no advance in any of those standards.
“So what are we waiting for?” he asked.
Nuland said that the administration held off on pressing new sanctions while Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko sought peace during a ceasefire. After that fell apart, the administration held off while the Europeans tried to bring the two sides together, which also failed. “We are continuing to consult with our European allies,” he said. “We will be stronger if work together.”
Europe has closer financial ties to Russia, which has led many analysts to doubt whether European nations would ever embrace sectoral sanctions. But Nuland said she was confident. “My judgment based on hours and hours and hours of conversations,” she said, “is that if Russia does not stop rearming separatists, does not stop its financial support, that we will have European support for another round of sanctions.”
Menendez said Congress might not wait on the administration before pushing through legislation imposing new sanctions.