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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday said President Biden should deploy additional U.S. military forces to Eastern Europe and expand his travel next week to go “beyond” Brussels, while casting his move to blame Russian President Vladimir Putin for rising inflation in the United States as “utter nonsense.”
During a speech on the Senate floor Wednesday morning, just hours after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s virtual address to Congress, McConnell, R-Ky., maintained the importance of reinforcing NATO’s eastern flank, and said he has been calling for the Biden administration, since December, to “expedite shipments of lethal aid and aircraft and tank-weapons.”
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McConnell, in a swipe at the Biden administration, said “efforts to transfer the weapons moved at the speed of bureaucracy.”
Criticizing the administration, McConnell said the White House has “insisted its hesitation and restraint was aimed at avoiding escalation.”
“But at every step, [Russian President Vladimir] Putin has escalated now three weeks and Putin’s invasion, the reality, on the ground is evolving,” McConnell said, claiming it is “harder now than it would have been a few months ago to keep the pipeline of weapons supplies and intelligence for Ukraine’s brave assistance open.”
“Russia’s air offensive in particular, in particular, is hitting a deadlier, more aggressive stride,” McConnell warned.
McConnell called on Biden to “deploy more U.S. forces to reinforce NATO’s eastern flank and use the new drawdown and loan guarantee authorities to help harden the defenses of our front-line allies and partners.”
“Many of these partners are generously helping Ukraine, and we should help them backfill their inventories with more modern American capabilities that will improve NATO’s interoperability and bolster deterrence,” McConnell said.
McConnell’s comments came after Zelenskyy pleaded with the United States to “do more” by implementing a no-fly zone, providing additional aircraft and air defense systems, and creating a new security alliance.
The White House has maintained that the creation of a no-fly zone would be viewed as “escalatory” and “could prompt a war with Russia.”
Ukraine is not a member of NATO, so it is not subject to the Article V provision of the NATO alliance that says when one member country is attacked, all member countries will take action to assist.
Biden, on Wednesday afternoon, is expected to make remarks at the White House to announce an additional $800 million in military aid to Ukraine – on top of the $200 million in funding that was announced Saturday.
The new funding brings the United States’ total assistance to Ukraine to over $1 billion in the span of just a few days – and the total U.S. military assistance to Ukraine to over $1.2 billion within the past year.
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Biden is set to travel to Brussels, Belgium, next week for a NATO summit, scheduled for March 24.
But McConnell called on Biden to expand his trip, and “go beyond Brussels.”
“He should go to countries like Poland, Romania or Lithuania to meet with NATO eastern flank allies,” McConnell said. “And he should look beyond NATO to deepen our diplomatic and security cooperation with important American partners.”
Meanwhile, McConnell said that “even with a literal land war in Europe, the Democrats’ implosion is so painful that inflation, and not Ukraine, still tops the American people’s biggest list of concerns.”
“From the gas pump to the grocery store, to clothes, diapers and baby formula, to furniture and home essentials, to car repairs and car replacements – Democrats’ policies have put working families on a treadmill where they have to run faster and faster every month, just to stay in place,” McConnell said, citing “spiking” rent prices, increasing “faster than they have since 1991,” and grocery prices soaring “faster than they have since 1980.”
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“Democrats have lost a shameless campaign to blame 12 months of inflation, not on 12 months of their bad policies, but instead on the last three-week crisis in Europe,” McConnell continued. “The White House informs us, quote, ‘Putin’s price hike is the culprit.’”
“Of course, that is utter nonsense,” McConnell said. “This is Biden’s inflation and he needs to own the White House.”
Biden, this week, said, again, that Putin and the COVID-19 pandemic are to blame for record-high inflation in the United States and maintained that rising prices have “nothing to do” with his administration’s policies.
“We know that families are still struggling with higher prices,” Biden said. “Let’s be absolutely clear about why prices are high now or high for two reasons.”
The first, Biden said, is due to “the way the global economy works.”
“A factory in Taiwan that makes computer chips shuts down to a COVID outbreak. It causes a ripple effect to slow down auto-manufacturing,” Biden said. “So, because of the pandemic, we had significant disruptions in the supply chain, and our supply chain is so important with so many materials that come from other places.”
“And now, a second big reason for inflation is Vladimir Putin,” Biden said.
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“We’ve seen the price of gas go up over a dollar just since he put his troops on the border on the border of Ukraine — they went up a dollar and five cents,” Biden said.
“Big part of that reason is Putin began amassing troops along the border and then crossed. And guess what? The world took notice,” Biden said. “The market anticipated, prices went up, and then Putin invaded.”
He added: “Make no mistake, the current spike in gas prices is largely the fault of Vladimir Putin – it has nothing to do with the American Rescue Plan.”
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Biden said that “rescuing our economy didn’t cause this problem,” but he vowed to “fix it.”
Meanwhile, inflation hit a fresh 40-year high in February. The consumer price index climbed 7.9% on an annual basis, according to data released on Thursday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Month over month, according to the data, inflation rose 0.8%.
The year-over-year reading is in line with estimates and compares with an annual 7.5% jump in January, marking the fastest increase since February 1982, when inflation hit 7.6%.
Gas jumped 6.6% in February and accounted for almost a third of price hikes, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics data released Thursday. Food prices, in comparison, rose by 1%.
The February data were recorded before the start of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, which has pushed prices at the pump to $4.31 as of today, according to AAA, a record high.
Biden last week announced a ban on all imports of Russian oil, gas and energy to the United States, targeting the “main artery” of Russia’s economy amid Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine. Biden warned that the ban would cost American families.
Russian oil exports account for about one-third of Europe’s oil imports, but Russian exports are just under 10% of U.S. overall imports.