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Putin puts Obama’s foreign policy to the test

The Morning Line

With Ukraine’s interim prime minister declaring the country to be “on the brink of disaster,” President Barack Obama finds himself entangled in a diplomatic standoff with Russian President Vladimir Putin with no clear path forward and Republican lawmakers at home openly criticizing his foreign policy.

Secretary of State John Kerry made the Sunday show rounds, describing Russia’s intervention in Ukraine an “act of aggression that is completely trumped up in terms of its pretext.”

Kerry, who will travel to Kiev Tuesday to meet with Ukrainian officials, said during an appearance on CBS’ “Face the Nation” the administration had consulted with allies about the possibility of leveling economic penalties against Russia should it continue to take provocative steps in the Crimea region of Ukraine.

“All of them, every single one of them, are prepared to go to the hilt in order to isolate Russia with respect to this invasion,” Kerry said. “They are prepared to put sanctions in place. They are prepared to isolate Russia economically.”

Asked on NBC’s “Meet the Press” whether a military option had been considered, Kerry responded that such action was “the last thing anybody wants.”

“We want a peaceful resolution through the normal processes of international relations,” he added.

Kerry’s tough posture followed a 90-minute conversation between the president and Putin on Saturday. The White House said Mr. Obama “made clear that Russia’s continued violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would negatively impact Russia’s standing in the international community.”

One potential next step could be a U.S. boycott of the Group of Eight summit in Russia this June. The U.S. could also move to have Russia expelled from the G-8.

The administration’s immediate response to the situation in Ukraine has done little to quiet Republican critics who have in the past charged the president with “leading from behind.”

“I think Putin is playing chess, and I think we’re playing marbles,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Rogers said the Russians have been “running circles around us” when it comes to negotiations involving Syria and missile defense.

Speaking on CNN, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., also took aim at the president’s strategy toward Russia.

“Stop going on television and trying to threaten thugs and dictators. It is not your strong suit,” he advised. “Every time the president goes on national television and threatens Putin or anyone like Putin, everybody’s eyes roll, including mine. We have a weak and indecisive president that invites aggression.”

The National Journal’s Michael Hirsh writes that Ukraine could be the “toughest crisis” of Mr. Obama’s presidency.

Politico’s Reid Epstein surveys the president’s options with Russia, and finds there is no easy way out of the situation.

The Washington Post’s Scott Wilson, meanwhile, looks at how the situation squares with the president’s broader foreign policy strategy.

And the New Yorker’s David Remnick examines Putin’s hopes for reasserting Soviet power this winter:

He thought that he would achieve this by building an Olympic wonderland on the Black Sea for fifty-one billion dollars and putting on a dazzling television show. It turns out that he will finish the season in a more ruthless fashion, by invading a peninsula on the Black Sea and putting on quite a different show—a demonstration war that could splinter a sovereign country and turn very bloody, very quickly.


  • The House and Senate are taking a snow day.

  • The Supreme Court, however, is open and will hear oral arguments in Hall vs. Florida, about states’ authority to identify mentally disabled defendants when determining eligibility for the death penalty.

  • The Washington Post’s Pam Constable traveled to Virginia’s 6th Congressional District, where she found House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte facing pressure from immigration activists over his tough stance on immigration reform.

  • The New York Times’ Nicholas Confessore writes that wealthy campaign donors are looking to have more input on strategy.

  • House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is publishing a 204-page critique of the federal government’s anti-poverty programs Monday as a prelude to the release of the House GOP budget later this month. The president unveils his budget Tuesday.

  • Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray said Friday that Democrats would not offer a budget resolution this year.

  • National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar reports former Rep. Travis Childers, a Blue Dog Democrat, plans to run for the U.S. Senate seat in Mississippi. Veteran GOP Sen. Thad Cochran faces a June primary challenge from state Sen. Chris McDaniel.

  • Police arrested hundreds of students protesting the Keystone pipeline outside the White House Sunday.

  • Retiring Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., tells Salon why millions “are already dying” from climate change.

  • Politico’s Josh Gerstein and Jennifer Epstein dig through the roughly 4,000 pages released Friday by former President Bill Clinton’s presidential library. The documents give a sense of the concerns within the Clinton administration about its health care reform package. They also reveal efforts to soften Hillary Clinton’s public image, including by having her appear on the sitcom “Home Improvement.”

  • “Regardless of their success in 2014,” Cook Political Report’s Amy Walter writes, “Republicans will start out in a hole” in 2016 the longer they make opposition to Mr. Obama their biggest issue.

  • Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is raising his public profile on the campaign trail, abandoning his push for immigration reform in favor of stauncher conservative positions.

  • Democrats, the New York Times’ Jackie Calmes reports, are using data-driven targeting to try to bring white men back into their fold.

  • Business groups are not happy about House Ways and Means Chair David Camp’s tax reform proposal.

  • Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, plans to challenge Paul Ryan for chair of the Ways and Means committee after Camp relinquishes the seat because of term limits next year.

  • Drama is building over who will replace retiring California Rep. Henry Waxman as top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee after Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi made a surprise endorsement of the committee’s fifth-ranking Democrat and fellow Californian Anna G. Eshoo over third-ranking Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey.

  • In the latest edition of “Being Biden,” the vice president talks about meeting with with Special Olympian Jonathan Stoklosa.


  • Mark Shields and David Brooks discussed Ukraine and the power of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and on domestic issues weighed in on the veto of Arizona’s SB-1062 and the response to Chairman Camp’s tax reform proposal.


Ruth Tam contributed to this report.

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