In an increasingly rare show of bipartisan accord, House Republicans and Democrats voted Thursday to authorize a $1 billion loan package for embattled Ukraine, where Russian forces have taken control of the Crimean peninsula.
In a 385-23 vote, lawmakers approved legislation that would enable President Obama to use existing funds to provide loan guarantees to Ukraine that would help it escape financial dependency on Russia.
The bill also leaves out additional money for the International Monetary Fund that President Obama and many Democrats are seeking.
“Ukraine is facing an extraordinarily difficult time,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., said. “Our nation has a duty to provide help to the people of Ukraine when they now need it most. This will provide some stability for the people and the government of Ukraine as they navigate these troubled waters.”
The short debate included GOP criticisms of Obama's foreign policy agenda, which Republican lawmakers say is partly to blame for Russian President Vladimir Putin's aggressive move into Ukraine.
“The president's policy of leading from behind is a failure,” Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., said. “We in Congress must do all we can to restore missing leadership on American foreign policy. And that starts with Ukraine.”
President Obama on Thursday moved to impose limited sanctions on Russians involved in the the military invasion, denying them U.S. visas and preventing them from making financial transactions in the United States.
Many Republicans are clamoring for Obama to come down even harder on Russia and Congress could in the coming days take up legislation authoring more extensive sanctions.
For the moment, however, the GOP seems content to give Obama some room to decide the next steps, which they hope will include more punishing sanctions, if necessary.
“We're continuing to work on a package of sanctions with our counterparts in the Senate and, frankly, with the White House, trying to give the president tools that he might employ that would strengthen his hand in dealing with this very difficult problem,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Thursday.
The Senate is expected to take up an aid package for Ukraine, but the timing is unclear. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said it might not receive a vote before senators leave on a week-long break after March 14.
Democrats are hoping the final aid package that emerges from Congress will include additional money for the IMF, a move that could make it harder for a final bill to pass the House.
At a hearing Thursday, Senate Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Bob Menendez, D-N.J., promised his panel would produce a financial aid package for Ukraine by next week. And he praised Obama's sanctions announcement, suggesting it could go even further.
“The committee is prepared to codify this action and potentially provide the president with further authority to respond to this situation as it develops,” Menendez said.
The top Republican on the panel, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said Putin's actions in Ukraine came as a result of Obama's weak approach to foreign policy, but added that he supports the aid package and limited sanctions.
“We stand ready here to enable the administration to act even more forcefully,” Corker said.
In the House, the top Republican and Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee introduced a non-binding resolution condemning the Russian military invasion of Ukraine and calling for sanctions against Russian officials and financial institutions.
House Republicans are also preparing legislation to lift limits on exporting liquid natural gas to Ukraine and other foreign countries, but a vote is not expected on that measure until late March.
This story was published at 3:28 p.m. and has been updated.