Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., leaves the Senate chamber after final votes at the Capitol, on June 3, 2014.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., leaves the Senate chamber after final votes at the Capitol, on June 3, 2014. Susan Walsh/AP

McCain Calls for the 'Most Severe Sanctions' on Russia

Sen. John McCain said it's time the U.S. armed the Ukrainian military while also calling for a rapid escalation of sanctions against Russia. By Rachel Roubein

A fast-paced news day including a downed Malaysia airliner and the launch of a ground assault in Gaza led up to National Journal and CNN's first Politics On Tap event Thursday featuring Sen. John McCain.

The Arizona Republican called for severe sanctions to be put on Russia if pro-separatist groups are found to be at fault.

The event—some of which will air on CNN—was held at a bar in Washington and was scheduled to center around the humanitarian crisis at the border, midterm elections, and the Republican Party's evolution.

Instead, McCain began by addressing reports that an antiaircraft missile was involved in the crash of a Malaysia Airlines plane.

"We know for sure that the airplane—when it struck the ground—it had already been hit," McCain told media and Capitol Hill and K Street professionals in attendance. "In other words the debris is spread over a 10-mile period, so it couldn't have just been the plane intact hitting the ground."

Earlier in the day, a Malaysia Airlines plane left Amsterdam and headed for Kuala Lumpur. A surface-to-air missile struck the plane with 280 passengers and 15 crew members aboard, crashing the airliner in eastern Ukraine, media outlets reported as the story developed. It is unclear if Americans were aboard the aircraft, McCain said Thursday evening.

It was probably not a mechanical failure, McCain said, because the plane wouldn't have come apart. A surface-to-air missile that came from a separatist-controlled base or just over the border in Russia is the only logical conclusion, he said.

Vice President Joe Biden offered U.S. assistance to Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko, and the U.S. will send a team to Ukraine to investigate the incident. The U.S. will also help support an international investigation, President Obama told Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Also on Thursday, a 10-day-long conflict in Israel came to a head when Israel launched a ground offensive in Gaza. The objective is to deal a "significant blow to Hamas' terror infrastructure," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement.

McCain blamed Secretary of State John Kerry for unsuccessful negotiations.

"All this in my view began when our secretary of state raised the expectations about the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks," he said. "The situation today has something to do with that total failure."

If a country contiguous to the United States launched thousands of missiles at the land and its people, the American government would take the same military approach as Israel, McCain said.

"Most anybody that looks at it objectively, what do you expect the Israelis to do when people are launching hundreds of rockets at you?" McCain asked at the event.

Since early last week, the conversation in Washington has swirled around the humanitarian crisis at the border. Both parties and chambers are analyzing Obama's request for emergency supplemental funding—and some are forming their own solutions—to address the surge of unaccompanied minors fleeing violence and economic disparities in Central America's Northern Triangle.

Children are clinging to trains as they journey to the United States, McCain said.

"Are we going to say, 'Welcome'—as some of my liberal Democrat colleagues want—and subject these young people to that?" he asked. "Of course not."

Expanding embassies and establishing consulates in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras could help the residents appeal for asylum before attempting illegal entry to the U.S., McCain said.

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