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First Thoughts: US Announces New Sanctions Against Russia

The new announcement shows the White House's decision to remain united with a Europe that’s economically tied to Russia.

Obama administration hits Russia with a new round of sanctions

The Obama administration on Monday announced a new round of sanctions on Russia over the standoff in Eastern Ukraine, targeting seven Russian government officials and 17 companies linked to Russia President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle. The sanctions also will freeze military-technology exports. The European Union will impose similar sanctions in the next day or two. Bottom line: These sanctions represent the United States’ decision to continue to go slow -- in order to remain united with a Europe that’s more economically tied to Russia -- rather than ramp up tougher unilateral sectoral sanctions that might not have Europe’s support right now. It’s a decision that has its detractors, something the president has acknowledged but also defended. “We’re going to be in a stronger position to deter Mr. Putin when he sees that the world is unified and the United States and Europe is unified, rather than this is just a U.S.-Russian conflict,” Obama said on Sunday. “If we, for example, say we’re not going to allow certain arms sales to Russia -- just to take an example -- but every European defense contractor backfills what we do, then it’s not very effective.” Nevertheless, the New York Times reported over the weekend that there’s a split inside the Obama administration on whether it’s better to keep a united front with Europe, or act unilaterally with the assumption that Europe will eventually follow.

Poll: 61% say U.S. should be less actively involved in world affairs

But if you wanted to know why Obama probably won’t get punished by American voters for going slow on Russian sanctions, check out these results from a poll for the United Nations Foundation (conducted by GOP pollster Bill McInturff and Dem pollster Geoff Garin): 61% of Americans say the U.S. should be LESS actively involved in world affairs. That percentage is up from the 55% who said this in 2008 and the 51% who said this in 2007. And here’s Obama at a news conference in the Philippines today: “Typically, criticism of our foreign policy has been directed at the failure to use military force. And the question I think I would have is, why is it that everybody is so eager to use military force after we’ve just gone through a decade of war at enormous costs to our troops and to our budget? And what is it exactly that these critics think would have been accomplished?” The president’s foreign policy stances, while unpopular with some hawks (a majority of whom dominate the overall foreign policy debate in Washington and New York), is actually in line with where the public is at. In fact, a more hawkish foreign policy, while more popular in the Acela corridor, as polling indicates might actually become a bigger political problem outside the national security intelligentsia circle.

Zero tolerance

Domestically, the top political story over the past few days has been about race -- whether it was Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy’s much-criticized remarks on race, or the alleged comments from Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. And President Obama decided to weigh in when given the option by one of your authors at a joint press conference, commenting about Sterling’s alleged remarks (and he seemed to be talking about Bundy, too). “When people -- when ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance you don’t really have to do anything, you just let them talk. And that’s what happened here.” To us, what’s been particularly striking about both episodes has been the immediate, nearly universal, backlash. Ten or 15 years ago, there might have been excuses -- generational or geographical -- for racist comments like: “Well, that person is old.” Or: “It’s OK, he’s from this particular state, and he doesn’t know better because that’s the culture of,” etc… There is now zero tolerance, whether you’re a rancher in your 60s or 70s, or you’re a wealthy old owner of a basketball team. As Obama added in his remarks, “We’ve made enormous strides [on matters of race in America], but you’re going to continue to see this percolate up every so often. And I think that we just have to be clear and steady in denouncing it.” And others denounced it, too. “It’s just outrageous in 2014 that comments like these are being made,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) said yesterday. “I thought the president’s response was appropriate, and I don’t know what else to add to it.”

Tea Party isn’t putting its money where its mouth is

The Washington Post said over the weekend that Tea Party groups aren’t putting their money where their mouths are. “Out of the $37.5 million spent so far by the PACs of six major tea party organizations, less than $7 million has been devoted to directly helping candidates, according to the analysis, which was based on campaign finance data provided by the Sunlight Foundation.” So where is the money going? “Roughly half of the money — nearly $18 million — has gone to pay for fundraising and direct mail, largely provided by Washington-area firms. Meanwhile, tea party leaders and their family members have been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in consulting fees, while their groups have doled out large sums for airfare, a retirement plan and even interior decorating.” The paper goes on to add that prominent Tea Party activist Jenny Beth Martin, who headed up Tea Party Patriots, had twin salaries putting her on track “to make more than $450,000 this year, a dramatic change in lifestyle for the tea party activist, who had filed for bankruptcy in 2008 and then cleaned homes for a period of time to bring in extra money.” As we’ve said before, the next six weeks are a make-or-break time for the Tea Party. Losing the key Senate primaries in May and June will show that the Tea Party is out of juice. And this Post story doesn’t help, either.

On the road in Iowa

NBC’s Kasie Hunt spent the weekend reporting in Iowa, and here are some of the highlights. In her interview with Democratic Senate candidate Bruce Braley regarding his comments about Chuck Grassley and farmers: "Well, I learned what I've known for a long time, and that is, people say things they regret. and the important thing is to accept responsibility for it, which I did," Braley said. Here’s GOP Senate candidate Mark Jacobs on whether he would forgo his Senate salary if he wins the office: “I don't think U.S. senators make that much money, but again, you know, I'm willing to make significant investment of my time and energy here to help solve the problems we have in this country. (Jacobs’ campaign later clarified: "He's never really looked into how much U.S. senators make. The point he was trying to make is that no matter what U.S. senators make, he's not doing it for the money.”) And here’s GOP Senate candidate Joni Ernst if she can raise enough money: "It's not about the money; it is about the Iowa values, and bottom line here, you can't buy Iowa values."

Love, Comstock win GOP nominations

Some other midterm developments from the weekend. First, “Former Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love earned ample support from Utah Republicans on Saturday to win her party’s nod for the House — and most likely become the GOP’s first black congresswoman,” Roll Call says. Second, “Virginia Delegate Barbara Comstock handily won the GOP “firehouse” primary to replace retiring Rep. Frank Wolf, ensuring a heated general election contest for the battleground district,” Politico adds.

A Grimm tale

Finally, per WNBC’s Jonathan Dienst, Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY) turned himself in to FBI agents and was arrested around 7:00 am ET this morning, according to law enforcement officials. He is now in custody. He is expected to be arraigned in federal court later today. More from the Washington Post: “The charges stem from his ownership of a Manhattan health-food restaurant that has ties to an Israeli fundraiser who served as a liaison between Grimm and a mystic, celebrity rabbi whose followers donated more than $500,000 to Grimm’s campaign in 2010… The state fined the Upper East Side restaurant, Healthalicious, $88,000 for not providing workers compensation. In a lawsuit against the company, workers accused the owners of not paying proper wages and sometimes giving out cash payments to skirt tax and business laws.”

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