Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., attends a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on pending nominations in Dirksen Building on Feb. 17, 2022.

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., attends a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on pending nominations in Dirksen Building on Feb. 17, 2022. CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images / Tom Williams

US Politicians Use Russia’s Invasion to Attack Putin—and Biden

While most politicians blamed the Russian leader for the attack, some Republicans criticized the U.S. president for failing to deter it.

While most U.S. politicians roundly denounced Russian leader Vladimir Putin for launching the first European war in decades, some also took the opportunity to attack President Joe Biden.  

As the first Russian missiles hit Ukraine, Democrats and Republicans quickly called on the Biden administration to enact harsher sanctions against Russia than it previously was willing to levy, and to increase aid to Ukraine. Some Republicans also banged the drum for increased U.S. energy production and more emergency U.S. defense spending. 

And some right-wing political leaders and media personalities, including former President Donald Trump and his followers, criticized the commander in chief, claiming Biden had left the United States in a “weak” position that paved the way for Putin’s attack. 

Others said the Ukraine invasion was Putin’s fault alone. Many current and former members of national-security related congressional committees, and former GOP national security leaders, steered clear of Biden-blaming in their public responses. 

For weeks, the Russian buildup around Ukraine had split conservatives over whether to blame Biden or Putin; the schism continued well into Thursday, when President Obama called on “every American, regardless of party” to support President Biden’s efforts.” 

Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, in a statement Thursday conceded that the Ukraine attack was "ordered by…Putin," but two paragraphs later blamed "the Obama-Biden administration’s tepid response" to Russia after it seized Crimea in 2014. Inhofe also called for sanctions and additional aid “to help our Ukrainian friends defend themselves” and “additional resources to our troops in Eastern Europe.” 

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who sought to overturn 2020 presidential election results, also blamed Biden’s “weakness, both in general and his surrender on Nord Stream 2,” for allowing the invasion. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell also criticized Biden’s strategy, before saying the U.S. should “ratchet” sanctions against Russia “all the way up.” 

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., who also sought to overturn election results, has doggedly attacked the president since Putin launched the invasion. “​​Joe Biden has shown nothing but weakness and indecision. Now is the time to show strong purpose,” Hawley tweeted. He said Russia’s invasion “must be met with strong American resolve” and that Biden should hit Putin “where it hurts,” he said, “beginning with Russia’s energy sector,” while also arming the Ukrainians and reopening “American energy production in full.” In the past, Hawley has opposed proposals to admit Ukraine to NATO and wrote last week that “America has an interest in Ukraine’s independence and territorial integrity,” but it is “not so great that we should commit ourselves to fight Russia over Ukraine’s future.” 

Army veteran Rep. Mark Green, R-Tenn., who sits on the House Foreign Affairs and Armed Services Committees, in a statement on Wednesday said, “Instead of swift, crippling sanctions, the Biden administration chose the wait-and-watch approach. In the midst of destabilizing Russian aggression, the time for action was months ago.” 

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, blamed Biden, Obama, and Trump for the invasion, saying, “The 80s called and we didn’t answer.” 

Some speakers at the Conservative Political Action Conference, which began today in Florida, were also quick to criticize the president.  

But many other conservatives declined to attack Biden. Rep. Don Young, the senior Republican from Alaska, a critical state for U.S. defenses against Russian and Chinese capabilities, left the U.S. president out of his statement, which called Putin “an authoritarian thug.” 

In a joint statement on Wednesday, House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Mike Rogers, R-Ala., House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Michael McCaul, R-Tex., and House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Ranking Member Mike Turner, R-Ohio, avoided blaming Biden, saying, “Every drop of Ukrainian and Russian blood spilled in this conflict is on Putin’s hands, and his alone.”

Republican Reps. James Comer of Kentucky and Chris Stewart of Utah, and Sens. John Hoeven of North Dakota and Jim Lankford of Oklahoma, also declined to mention Biden in their statements calling for sanctions on Russia’s energy production. 

Lankford said such sanctions must be quick and must cripple Putin and “anyone who seeks to aid” Russia. “We will absolutely impose trade restrictions and enforce sanctions on countries who continue to work with Russia,” said Lankford, who also called on the U.S. to “dramatically ramp up energy production to strengthen our allies and to cut off the flow of money into Putin’s war machine.” 

Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., who sits on the Armed Services Committee and is a regular U.S. delegate to global security policy conferences, urged Biden and Congress to pass a “supplemental national security spending bill immediately.” 

While many members of Congress went into detail about the next steps the U.S. should take, House minority leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy avoided specifics, instead calling for “serious consequences” and saying Putin should be “held accountable.”

Others called for generically tougher treatment of Putin and continued or increased lethal aid for Ukrainians. Stewart called for “small arms, explosives and communication equipment to help ensure a well-armed, well-organized Ukrainian insurgency.” Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., similarly called for the U.S. to “establish long-term support for the Ukrainian armed resistance and civil society mobilization.”

The McCain Institute released statements by several trustees, including Mark Esper, Trump’s former defense secretary; former Rhode Island senator and Armed Services committee member Kelly Ayotte; and Fran Townsend, a former security advisor to President George W. Bush. None attacked Biden, who considered the late Sen. John McCain to be a good friend. McCain’s widow, Cindy McCain, is currently serving in Rome as Biden’s U.S. ambassador to the UN Agencies for Food and Agriculture. 

Many Democrats also mentioned sanctions, including Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who noted that Biden has already imposed some sanctions on Russia and “stands ready to deliver even more crippling consequences.” 

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, said the Biden administration should quickly move forward with those further sanctions, to sever “Russia’s leading financial institutions from the global economy” and to end Europe’s dependence on Russian oil and gas. 

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the invasion shows the “need to expel the current Kremlin leadership from the international community. Today must mark a historical shift in how the world views and deals with the despot in Moscow.” 

Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., chairwoman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, also urged the “strongest possible sanctions.”

Tulsi Gabbard, an Army reservist who served as a Democrat in the House before an unsuccessful presidential bid, has become a frequent Biden critic on conservative media. She drew condemnation for a tweet suggesting the invasion “could have easily been avoided” if the U.S. and NATO “had simply acknowledged Russia’s legitimate security concerns regarding Ukraine’s becoming a member of NATO.” 

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said her argument is “simply not true.” 

“A pledge that #Ukraine would never join NATO was not Putin’s only demand,” wrote Rubio, who has been tweeting detailed updates on the situation in Ukraine and what he believes are Russia’s plans. “As recently as last week, he once again demanded NATO leave every country that joined after 1997, including Bulgaria, Romania, and 12 others.” 

For his part, Trump blamed Biden’s “weakness and incompetence” for Putin’s invasion, which the former president called “genius.” In 2019, Trump blocked the delivery of military aid to Ukraine for 55 days while pressuring Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to corroborate debunked conspiracy theories about his political opponents.

Kevin Baron and Elizabeth Howe contributed to this report.