Shortly after President Joe Biden announced new sanctions on Russian banks and elites on Thursday – but not on Russian President Vladimir Putin – a top Senate Democrat urged him to go even further.
“There is more we can and should do as we seek to impose maximum costs on Putin. Congress and the Biden administration must not be afraid to pursue any option, including sanctioning the Russian Central Bank, removing Russian banks from the SWIFT [international banking] system, crippling Russia’s key industries, sanctioning Putin personally, and taking all necessary steps to seize Putin and his inner circle’s assets “In a statement, Sen. Bob Menendez, chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, urged the administration.
Rep. Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, told reporters Thursday that he, too, would support removing Russia from the SWIFT banking system, as many Republicans have done as tensions have risen.
“We must provide Ukraine with assistance in defending itself. We will also, I believe, need to dramatically increase the sanctions we impose on Russia in response to the Kremlin dictator’s act of naked aggression. We need to sanction Russia’s largest banks, I believe, and cut Russia off from the international financial system and its ability to access Western capital. We must target its ability to acquire sophisticated technology for its weapon systems,” Schiff told reporters at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday.
When asked why SWIFT was not included in his announcement, Biden argued that the actions taken by the US on Thursday were more significant, but that it was an option that remained on the table, even though allies had not agreed to make the move.
“It’s always an option, but right now that’s not the position that the rest of Europe wants to take,” Biden told reporters in the White House’s East Room on Thursday.
During a phone call Thursday afternoon, Biden briefed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on the evolving situation in Ukraine.
McConnell described it as “a briefing from the president for the four of us on today’s events and the way forward,” but he declined to elaborate. He stated that he urged the president to “ratchet up the sanctions” both publicly and privately.
Republicans and Democrats in both chambers of Congress agree that the administration must act boldly and quickly to punish Putin and Russian oligarchs as the deadly attack in Ukraine continues.
While many Republicans have been critical of Biden’s actions up to this point, the actual invasion attack has seen many Republicans join Democrats in calling for partisan squabbles to be put aside in the name of NATO unity.
While agreeing to do so, Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, couldn’t help but use the opportunity to say, “I told you so.” In a statement issued shortly after news of Russia’s incursion into Ukraine broke Wednesday evening. Romney recalled his 2012 presidential debate with President Barack Obama, who mocked Romney for referring to Russia as the US’ “number one geopolitical foe.”
Obama joked on stage at the time that “the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back.”
Romney argued ten years later that Putin’s previous aggression laid the groundwork for the current conflict in Ukraine. “The ’80s called,” he said, “and we didn’t answer.”
Nonetheless, the statement concluded on a positive note, urging America and its allies to “protect freedom” by working together to impose harsh sanctions on Russia.
Many Republican lawmakers are adopting Romney’s tone, urging unity despite disagreements with the administration.
Following Biden’s remarks, McConnell issued a statement in which he acknowledged Romney’s consistent warnings about Ukraine, but, like Romney, looked ahead.
Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee also issued a statement criticizing Putin early Thursday. They had been harsher on Biden earlier in the week.
However, some Republicans are opting for more divisive rhetoric, which has largely gone unnoticed in previous international conflicts. Among a newer breed of Republicans, many of whom have found themselves closely aligned with former President Donald Trump, criticism is extending beyond Putin and to Biden himself.