Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), the Ranking Member on the Foreign Affairs Committee, warned on Sunday that Russia is going to invade Ukraine unless President Joe Biden takes immediate hard action to show Russian President Vladimir Putin that the U.S. is serious about backing Ukraine.
McCaul said that he “completely disagree[d]” with the notion that the Biden administration loses leverage if they start to enact sanctions against Russia before Russia invades.
“I think this has been a passive deterrence, right?” he said. “I don’t see Putin changing his course of action. It’s getting very aggressive. The noose is tightening around Ukraine. President Zelensky, as you mentioned, said he wants the sanctions now. We can always remove the sanctions if it deters Putin’s bad behavior, but if you reward that and there are no consequences, it’s going to continue. And I think all along, there are so many things we can be doing to provide deterrence if we don’t do this. The plan of action that I’ve seen in the classified space, as well as very specific, very aggressive, is timetable. If we don’t do something strong right now, I’m afraid that he’s going to invade Ukraine, which will have, as — as the secretary talked about, he’s right and I think you and I did. It will have global ramifications here.”
McCaul said that the U.S. has “never seen” a build up of Russian forces like this and that an invasion was going to happen without much stronger deterrence.
In addition to enacting sanctions now, McCaul said that more lethal weapons needed to be sent to Ukraine and the U.S. needed to hold joint military exercises with allies in the region.
“We need joint exercises in Poland, the Baltic states, Romania, Bulgaria to show Putin that we’re serious. Right now,” he said. “He doesn’t see we’re serious and that’s why the buildup is taking place. I think this all started with Afghanistan and the unconditional surrender to the Taliban when he saw weakness, weakness invites aggression. We saw that with Chamberlain and Hitler. You know, Reagan talked about peace through strength.”
MARGARET BRENNAN: And we’re back with the top Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee in the House, Congressman Michael McCaul of Texas. Good morning to you.
REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R-TX): Good morning. Thanks for having me.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Lots to decipher with you. But first, I want to start on what we just heard from the chairman. Has that seemed fairly extraordinary what he just laid out? He says that there is reason to believe, and the committee has possession of documents about this plot, essentially to seize voting machines that involve members of the military that they have already been in touch with the former attorney general. What is your reaction to this?
REP. MCCAUL: Well, you know my reaction, it was a dark day, Jan.6, I want the truth to come out. I think this committee has been somewhat politicized. But the truth should come out, and I think the Department of Justice has been conducting an investigation. I worked at the DOJ for almost 15 years, and I trust their trust investigation- I in fact called upon them to investigate this, so I’m hopeful that the truth will come out on this. The allegations are very serious.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And I do know that you are endorsed by the former President Trump. So, this has to be a little uncomfortable to hear these kinds of allegations.
REP. MCCAUL: I’ve- of course, I mean, when the executive- commander in chief and these are allegations, I don’t think the executive order was ever followed through with–
MARGARET BRENNAN: –Right, It was a draft, but it was discussed in the Oval Office.
REP. MCCAUL: – Right. I think it should come out the truth, obviously. I always say it. The truth should come out.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, we will continue to watch the committee on that point on Russia. You heard the secretary say that if he uses the leverage of sanctions now, he gives up an important bit of deterrence. Do you disagree?
REP. MCCAUL: I completely disagree. I think this has been a passive deterrence, right? I don’t. I don’t see Putin changing his course of action. It’s getting very aggressive. The noose is tightening around Ukraine. President Zelensky, as you mentioned, said he wants the sanctions now. We can always remove the sanctions if it deters Putin’s bad behavior, but if you reward that and there are no consequences, it’s going to continue. And I think all along, there are so many things we can be doing to provide deterrence if we don’t do this, MARGARET. The plan of action that I’ve seen in the classified space, as well as very specific, very aggressive, is timetable. If we don’t do something strong right now, I’m afraid that he’s going to invade Ukraine, which will have, as- as the secretary talked about, he’s right and I think you and I did. It will have global ramifications here.
MARGARET BRENNAN: When I pressed the secretary on that, he twice said that the US is going after Russian agents in Ukraine. Is the US doing something now that the rest of us just don’t know about? Or is he just talking about sanctions?
REP. MCCAUL: Well, we know that the Brits released this intelligence report that the Russians are trying to depose Zelensky and put their own leader. We know that they’re right on the border with Belarus, they’re going to do joint exercises with precision weapons and aircraft. We know that Kiev is right- Kiev is right there. I think there are three forces one Kiev, one on the Donbass and the other one Black Sea Crimea. This is a buildup we’ve never seen before. And if with no deterrence, it’s going to happen.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Let’s take a break and continue to talk about this on the other side of it. So, congressman, please stay here. We’ll be right back.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Welcome back to FACE THE NATION, we continue our conversation now with Congressman Michael McCaul, the lead Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Let’s pick back up on the issue of Russia. We’re talking about immediate action, potentially. Congress is going away for a week. There are bills before the Senate. I know you’re working on one in the House. I mean, do you have that kind of time to play with legislation or do you need something in terms of a tool set to hand the president more quickly?
REP. MCCAUL: Well, time is of the essence. I’m working on a bill I’ve introduced to get- we’re getting key Democrats on board. It would be a-a-a assistance package of lethal aid to Ukraine. That’s important. But what’s also important is the message of deterrence. We need joint exercises in Poland, the Baltic states, Romania, Bulgaria to show Putin that we’re serious. Right now. He doesn’t see we’re serious and that’s why the buildup is taking place. I think this all started, MARGARET, with Afghanistan and the unconditional surrender to the Taliban when he saw weakness, weakness invites aggression. We saw that with Chamberlain and Hitler. You know, Reagan talked about peace through strength. And right now, whether- and-and the thing is, this is not just about Ukraine. It’s about China. It’s about President Xi and Taiwan. It’s about the Ayatollah and the bomb. It’s about North Korea that just fired off two missiles, they said, were, you know, these, you know, these hypersonic weapons. I think this has broader global ramifications. We’re seen as weak right now be-because of President Biden, his-his comments about a limited- a limited invasion was somehow acceptable, and that NATO was divided. I think one thing he said was true is that NATO is divided, and that’s- Putin’s goal is to divide and weaken NATO. He’s accomplished some of that.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, as you know, I mean, this has been going on since 2014 and during the Trump administration, there was some accommodation, at least in language from the former president on- on whether or not there were hard lines. So, Vladimir Putin has been getting kind of a mixed message for some time here. How do you change that when President Biden and you just heard Sec. Blinken send that message that they’re willing to have reciprocal restrictions on military exercises or on placement of missiles? Is that kind of accommodation weakness to you?
REP. MCCAUL: Well, you know, like let’s talk about Nord Stream 2, biggest concession ever. You know–
MARGARET BRENNAN: This is the potential gas pipeline from Russia to Germany.
REP. MCCAUL: It’s, you know, Putin’s pipeline into Europe. Congress passed bipartisan mandatory sanctions to stop that from happening. We have a presidential waiver, that’s very normal. We never dreamed that the President of the United States would waive that in the national interest of the United States. How is that in the interest of the United States to allow Putin to dominate Europe’s energy supply? and then at the same time, shutting down Keystone and not allowing the United States to be the leader in energy. LNG, which is cleaner than Putin’s dirty energy from getting into the region. I think this president has made so many concessions with nothing in return. That’s why Putin smells weakness. He’s wanted this, as you and I talked about for a long time. It’s his legacy issue. And if we don’t provide that deterrence, he will go in.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You know, the Germans have sort of been uncomfortable with the idea of moving on Nord Stream and the administration is saying they’re just- they are waiting on that. On the other risk here, we have midterm races coming up. In 2018, the United States took offensive action against Russia to stop them from meddling in those races. Do we need to see something like that in 2022?
REP. MCCAUL: You know, I don’t want to see Russia overturning Ukraine’s government. You know, I don’t want to see any foreign nation adversary getting involved in our elections. But again, pointing from Afghanistan forward, we have sent a message to our adversaries that we are projecting weakness, not strength. One thing Reagan talked to us- peace through strength, going back to Chamberlain and Hitler. If we’re projecting weakness, it only invites aggression. Historically, you know that. And this is exactly- I mean, I talked to the administration. I want to stop this from happening, but I’m very concerned about the aggression I’m seeing.