Anger on Capitol Hill Grows as Details on Flight MH17 Emerge
Updated 3:29 p.m. | Members of Congress from both parties and chambers took to the airwaves, to social media and the Internet Friday to express a growing anger over indications of Russian involvement in the missile attack that took down an airliner and all 298 aboard over Ukraine on Thursday.
In an appearance on Fox News, Rep. Mac Thornberry, expected to be the next chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said that President Barack Obama needs to move immediately to increase the U.S. defense budget. The Texas Republican also said Obama should look at how President Ronald Reagan handled a similar incident in the 1980s when Russia shot down a Korean airliner.
“I went back and looked at President Reagan’s statement after the Korean airline downer and I’m struck by the fact that he used very clear language, he called it a massacre, he called it an act of barbarism, he called the Soviets out for not telling the truth,” Thornberry said. “Even more important than what he said was what he did. He took several steps to isolate the Soviets … and he called on Congress to increase the defense budget. That’s what the president needs to do in a few minutes.” House appropriator Charles Dent, R-Pa., in a statement called the attack one that was “against the World,” and that “America and Europe should speak with one voice and sanction Putin’s Russia for the role it has played in this attack.”
House Foreign Affairs ranking member Eliot L. Engel, D-N.Y., also in an interview on Fox, said the incident will require the U.S. and its allies to rethink attitudes toward Russia.
“Whether they did this intentionally or not, that really does not matter,” he said. “The NATO alliance is being tested, I’ve been saying this for many weeks and many months. The formula of NATO over the past several years has been that Russia is a partner or at least collaborating with us. That is certainly no longer the case. Russia has turned itself into an adversary again.”
And on MSNBC, ex-House Homeland Security chairman Rep. Peter T. King, R-N.Y., criticized the president’s decision on Thursday to go ahead with previously scheduled fundraising events as news of the attack broke.
“We need more leadership from the president. He gave this a passing reference in his speech in Delaware, then went on to tell Joe Biden jokes and take the usual shots at Republicans — which is fair game, but not on this day,” said King, a member of the Homeland Security Committee.
Meanwhile, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., released a statement offering sympathy to the families of the victims, while emphasizing the need for answers.
“We stand determined to find answers about who is responsible,” Pelosi said. “As the President said today, ‘the eyes of the world are on eastern Ukraine,’ and it is clear there must be a credible international investigation into what happened.”
On the other side of the Capitol , Sen. Tim Kaine, in a statement from his office on the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, said Russia’s Vladimir Putin has “shown a complete disregard for the sovereignty of [Ukraine].”
“If investigators confirm it to be true that the separatists engaged in this attack on innocent travelers, I hope that the entire global community, especially European nations, join in a vigorous effort to punish and sanction Russia for its dangerous support to separatists and their illegal behavior,” the Virginia Democrat said in the statement.
Speaking with reporters Thursday afternoon, Sen. Lindsey Graham said the shoot-down of the Boeing 777 is “just what happens when aggression’s uncontrolled. When you’re indifferent or weak in terms of one nation gobbling up another.”
“I just think this is the consequence of a foreign policy where aggressive people are not met and challenged. I’m not blaming the United States for shooting down the airplane. I’m saying that the foreign policy of President Obama is allowing conflicts to grow in scope and nature,” the South Carolina Republican said. “And that the longer these things go, the more people get drawn in, and that’s why Syria represents a direct threat to our homeland. Three years ago, that’s not the case. That’s why the Russian intervention in Crimea has led to a breakup of the Ukraine, and it’s going to effect us in terms of energy prices.”
Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, tweeted, “If this plane went down as a consequence of the #Ukraine conflict, then Russia has blood on its hands no matter who fired.”
Lawmakers made their rounds as President Barack Obama appeared in the White House briefing room on Friday to update reporters on developments.
Also on Friday, the administration’s U.N. ambassador, Samantha Powers, told the Security Council that pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine had access to the missile system thought to have been responsible for bringing down the plane. Powers added that investigators can’t rule out the possibility that the rebels had Russian assistance in operating the system.
Emma Dumain and Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.