Sen. Tom Cotton pushes back on GOP lawmakers urging weak line on Russian aggression in Ukraine

Sen. Tom Cotton pushed back against fellow Republicans, arguing that a strong response to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine is not incompatible with “America First” policies.

Mr. Cotton was asked during an appearance on “Fox News Sunday” about GOP lawmakers citing hypocrisy among Democrats caring about Ukraine’s border while ignoring the migrant crisis at home.

“You can want to secure our southern border effectively and change our laws that so many of these illegal immigrants are taking advantage of, while at the same time recognize that if Russia invades Ukraine it won’t just be bad for Ukraine and for Eastern Europe,” said Mr. Cotton, Arkansas Republican. “It’ll be a signal to bad guys around the world that they can push even harder to harm American interests.”

Mr. Cotton, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that giving Russia a pass if it invades Ukraine would have adverse global ramifications for the U.S.  

“Imagine what it’ll say to [Chinese President] Xi Jinping if he sees Russia invade Ukraine and just get a few mealy-mouthed sanctions and slapped on,” said Mr. Cotton. “As you mentioned … China just sent dozens of airplanes into Taiwanese airspace last week — the biggest incursion in months. I think it’s not a coincidence. But that’s happening right now as the West seems divided under [President] Joe Biden’s leadership in Europe.”

The comments come as some Republican lawmakers and conservative pundits have publicly questioned the benefit of the U.S. involving itself in the dispute between Russia and Ukraine. Most notably, Fox News host Tucker Carlson has argued that Republicans and Democrats appear to go to war with Russia over Ukraine with little justification.

“No rational person could defend a war with Russia over Ukraine,” said Mr. Carlson. “Nobody thinks a war like that would make America safer or stronger or more prosperous.”

Several GOP lawmakers say the rhetoric is creating a false impression that the U.S. is ready and eager to send troops to Ukraine to fight a war.

“I think we got to be sure to understand what’s going on here,” Sen. Rob Portman, Ohio Republican, said Sunday in an interview on NBC “Meet the Press.” “The Ukrainians are not asking for American troops … nor is anybody talking about that, we’re talking about strengthening the countries around the region that are looking for more help.”

Sen. James Risch of Idaho, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also hit back at some voices in the party saying the U.S. should not be siding so heavily with Ukraine in the clash with Russia.

“The people who say we shouldn’t be engaged in this at all are going to be singing a very different tune when they go to fill up their car with gas if there is an invasion by Russia,” Mr. Risch said on CNN’s “State of the Nation,” pointing to the potential for massive disruptions in world energy markets if Russia invades and sanctions are imposed.

“If you’re someone that doesn’t care about the price of gasoline or oil, that’s fine,” he added. “But if you do have a concern about the quality of life for people all over the world, this is something always you have to consider, particularly when you’re sympathetic and trying to help democratic countries.”

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez said a bipartisan group of lawmakers are “on the one-yard line” in trying to pass even more stringent sanctions against Russia in the event of military action against Kyiv.

“These are sanctions beyond any that we have ever levied before, and I think that will send a very clear message,” said Mr. Menendez, New Jersey Democrat.

Mr. Biden pledged last week to deploy U.S. troops to Eastern Europe and NATO countries “in the near term,” but said “not too many” would be dispatched. The Defense Department has put nearly 8,500 troops on standby for deployment to Europe.

For months, Russian President Vladimir Putin has been amassing troops on his country’s border with Ukraine. Recent reports indicate the Russian troop presence stretches to more than 100,000 personnel.

“You don’t amass 100,000 troops if you don’t have intentions to use them,” said U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield. 

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