Before any U.S. troops are sent to Ukraine, some in Congress want a say

By: and - February 23, 2022 3:26 pm

Soldiers of 2nd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment of the U.S. Army are pictured during the preparation of vehicles before deploying to Romania on February 09, 2022 in Vilseck, Germany. The troops will join other US troops already there as part of a coordinated deployment of NATO forces across eastern Europe. The effort is part of NATO’s response to the large-scale build up of Russian troops on the border to Ukraine, which has caused international fears of an imminent Russian military invasion. (Photo by Alexandra Beier/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — U.S. Reps. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, a Democrat, and Warren Davidson of Ohio, a Republican, are leading a broad, bipartisan coalition of nearly 50 lawmakers urging the president to not send U.S. troops into Ukraine, or declare war, before receiving authorization from Congress. Among them are two Virginia Republicans: U.S. Reps. Ben Cline of Botetourt and Morgan Griffith of Salem.

President Joe Biden has not dispatched troops to Ukraine following Russia’s invasion and has said he does not intend to do so, but on Tuesday announced sanctions on Russia, as well as on its oligarchs. Biden also said he would move U.S. forces and equipment already in Europe to the three Baltic states — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. And on Wednesday he announced additional sanctions related to a Russian pipeline project intended to deliver natural gas to the European Union.

In a Tuesday letter to Biden, the House members cited Article I in the Constitution that gives Congress the power to finance and declare war, along with Article II that names the president as commander-in-chief.

They noted that “the War Powers Resolution of 1973 was passed into law after multiple presidential administrations failed to receive congressional approval for over a decade of unauthorized involvement by U.S. armed forces in hostilities in Southeast Asia.”

The Democratic and Republican lawmakers acknowledged there’s no intention now to place U.S. troops in Ukraine.

“However, if the ongoing situation compels you to introduce the brave men and women of our military into Ukraine, their lives would inherently be put at risk if Russia chooses to invade,” the lawmakers said in the letter.

“Therefore, we ask that your decisions comport with the Constitution and our nation’s laws by consulting with Congress to receive authorization before any such deployment.”

DeFazio said in a statement that the letter is meant to reaffirm the War Powers Resolution, which “states that Congressional authorization is required before the ‘introduction of United States Armed Forces into hostilities, or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances.’”

“Should your administration seek to introduce U.S. Armed Forces into hostilities or decline to remove any U.S. military personnel currently deployed inside Ukraine from unauthorized hostilities or imminent hostilities, Congress stands ready to deliberate over the potentially monumental implications of such scenarios,” according to the letter.

“The American people, through their representatives in Congress, deserve to have a say before U.S. troops are placed in harm’s way or the U.S. becomes involved in yet another foreign conflict,” lawmakers wrote.

Bipartisan members of Congress banded together on Tuesday to urge Biden to place tough sanctions on Russia, though some Republicans remained highly critical of Biden.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin on Monday directed troops to begin moving into two areas within eastern Ukraine, the Luhansk People’s Republic and the Donetsk People’s Republic.

‘Dead at the bottom of the sea’

On Wednesday Biden sanctioned the Russian company tasked with building and operating the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline, as well as its corporate officers.

Biden said in a statement the sanctions are part of the “initial tranche” of economic restrictions the United States began imposing on Russia earlier this week after it sent troops into eastern Ukraine.

“Through his actions, President Putin has provided the world with an overwhelming incentive to move away from Russian gas and to other forms of energy,” Biden said.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz suspended the approval process earlier this week in response to Russian aggression toward Ukraine. And Biden said Wednesday the two “closely coordinated” their response.

The Nord Stream 2 pipeline, running under the Baltic Sea, is a multi-billion-dollar project that its parent company has completed, though the pipeline isn’t yet operational — and at least for now will not be following the U.S. and German actions.

“It’s currently dead at the bottom of the sea,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday.

Nord Stream 2 AG, the entity sanctioned Wednesday, was set up under the Russian state-owned gas company Gazprom to handle the natural gas pipeline project. The pipeline would transport gas from vast reserves in Russia to the European Union market, making landfall in Germany.

The sanctions announcement marks the third day in a row the Biden administration has detailed economic repercussions for the Russian government in an attempt to prevent further escalation in Ukraine.

On Monday, the administration barred new investment, trading and finance in the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic — the two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine that Russian President Vladimir Putin declared independent.

On Tuesday, Biden announced sanctions on two Russian financial institutions; Russian sovereign debt, cutting the nation off from Western financing; and Russian elites and their family members, who Biden said “share in the corrupt gains” of Russian policies.

Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen said the sanctions would “begin the process of dismantling the Kremlin’s financial network and its ability to fund destabilizing activity in Ukraine and around the world.”

Biden also said Tuesday he’d authorized moving U.S. military personnel and equipment already in Europe to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — all of which are in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Biden reiterated he had no intention of sending U.S. soldiers into Ukraine to confront Russian troops, but said he wanted to send an “unmistakable message” that the United States “will defend every inch of NATO territory.”

Psaki said Wednesday the administration is aware of Russian officials vowing counter sanctions against the United States, but declined to detail whether American officials know what those might be.

Psaki did say that if Russia retaliates against the U.S. in a way that leads to a spike in energy prices, releasing more oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is “certainly on the table” as one way to minimize impact on energy markets.

The Biden administration, she said, doesn’t expect the sanctions announced this week to have an impact on Americans. But Psaki said officials are preparing for Putin’s next steps.

If the Russian government escalates, Psaki said, the White House has a “range of steps” it’s prepared to take, especially on financial institutions.

“There’s enormous financial institutions — the two largest banks, for example — which were not a part of the announcement we made yesterday,” Psaki said. “There’s additional steps we’ve expressed an openness to, including taking steps as it relates to export controls. So these are assessments we will continue to make internally.”

UPDATE: This post has been updated to add coverage of President Joe Biden’s announcement of additional sanctions.

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Ariana Figueroa
Ariana Figueroa

Ariana covers the nation's capital for States Newsroom. Her areas of coverage include politics and policy, lobbying, elections and campaign finance.

Jennifer Shutt
Jennifer Shutt

Jennifer covers the nation’s capital as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. Her coverage areas include congressional policy, politics and legal challenges with a focus on health care, unemployment, housing and aid to families.