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House passes $1 billion in loans for Ukraine, weighs Russia sanctions

WASHINGTON — The Republican-controlled House approved up to $1 billion in loan guarantees for Ukraine on Thursday, backing President Obama's request to help the new government.

The aid package sailed through the House on a robust bipartisan vote of 385-23, even as Republicans in Congress have voiced criticism of Obama's foreign policy leadership.

The measure won support from many fiscal conservatives who typically resist such spending bills because the funding will come from a State Department loan program that has already been allocated. Still, all 23 no votes came from Republicans, among them budget hard-liners.

"The best thing that we can do is work with the administration, strengthen their hand to deal with what is a very difficult situation," said House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), who again called Russian President Vladimir Putin "a thug."

The loan guarantees are also expected to be approved by the Senate.Both chambers are considering sanctions on Russian officials in response to Russia's military intervention in Crimea, which the U.S. worries could threaten Ukrainian independence.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, is working with the committee's top Republican, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, on a menu of options the administration could employ to impose further restrictions on Putin's government.

On Thursday, top congressional leaders welcomed the White House's executive action to put visa restrictions and other sanctions on officials believed to be responsible for situation. Boehner called those actions a good "first step."

Menendez said his committee is prepared to "potentially provide the president with further authority to respond to this situation as it develops."

"Putin’s game of Russian roulette has pointed the gun at the international community's head," Menendez said. "I believe this time Putin has miscalculated. And I believe it is essential we do not blink."

The rare moment of bipartisanship comes as Republicans have continued to attack the president's approach to foreign affairs, saying it has weakened the U.S. position abroad. With an eye toward November midterm elections, Republicans are trying to reassert what has been the party's dominance over Democrats on national security issues.

lisa.mascaro@latimes.com

Twitter: @lisamascaroinDC

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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