House Republicans urge Biden to draw ‘red lines’ on Russian escalation of the war in Ukraine

House Republicans urge Biden to draw ‘red lines’ on Russian escalation of the war in Ukraine

The top Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs and Intelligence committees pressed President Biden on Thursday to draw “red lines” amid a spike in concern over Russia’s escalating assault on Ukraine.

Fears have grown in recent days that Russia may resort to once-unthinkable measures such as the use of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons as its conventional assault on Ukraine stalls.

“What are the red lines on chemical weapons and short-range tactical nukes?” said Michael T. McCaul of Texas, the ranking member on the Foreign Affairs Committee. “To me, that’s a game-changer. And I think the administration and NATO needs to set a red line there saying ‘if this happens, that’s unacceptable and there will be consequences.’”

“Now we have to discuss what are those consequences,” he said. “We don’t want escalation or World War III, but it is hard to sit back idly and watch weapons of mass destruction being thrown into a country after all of the horrific images that we’ve already seen.”

Republican lawmakers have increasingly criticized Mr. Biden for not doing more to help Ukraine defeat Russia in the war, which has lasted a month with brutal fighting that has sent more than 3.6 million Ukrainian refugees fleeing into neighboring countries.

Mr. Biden, in a news conference earlier Thursday after meeting with NATO and other European allies in Brussels, said a chemical attack by Russia “would trigger a response in kind.”

“You’re asking whether NATO would cross. We’d make that decision at the time,” Mr. Biden said.

Discussions about the nuclear threat from Russia were supposed to top the agenda at the summit in Brussels.

A Kremlin spokesperson said this week that Russian President Vladimir Putin could use nuclear weapons if he perceived “an existential threat.”

Rep. Michael Turner of Ohio, the top Republican on the  Intelligence Committee, said Mr. Biden failed to put his foot down when asked about Russia’s escalating aggression towards Ukraine during his visit to Brussels.

“When asked about the use of chemical weapons, what red lines that perhaps we should have, the president waffled again,” said Mr. Turner.

Since Russia invaded last month, the U.S. and NATO have walked a tightrope of providing military aid to Ukraine while stopping short of getting directly involved in the conflict, such as by enforcing a no-fly zone over Ukraine or providing fighter jets to Ukraine.

Mr. Biden has said he does not want to spark a wider war with Russia or World War III. European leaders also have expressed fears of escalating the conflict.

Mr. Turner, who spoke from the House Republican Conference retreat in Ponte Verda Beach, Florida, said that while the administration continues to clarify what it will not do it has failed to “say what it will do and make it clear to Russia, the actions that NATO will do if Russia does cross red lines.”

“If chemical weapons are used to murder people in Ukraine, that should be a red line. The president should strongly state that, especially when he is standing with the other NATO heads of state,” he said.

Jeff Mordock contributed to this report.