Senators McCain and Graham Make Renewed Push for Russia Sanctions

Two prominent Republican senators are exploring a variety of options to push through a Russia sanctions bill as soon as possible, after Senator Bob Corker said Monday that the sanctions are on hold for now.

Corker, the chairman of the foreign relations committee, told THE WEEKLY STANDARD Tuesday that the panel would not consider the legislation for now, so ast to give the Trump administration time to see if it can change the direction of U.S.-Russia relations.

Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain told TWS they would prefer for the legislation to be taken up promptly.

“We will be looking at other options, including the Armed Services Committee and other committees,” said McCain, who is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “It may have to be on the [National Defense Authorization Act], it may have to be on other legislation as it comes across. It may have to try to be brought up by itself.”

“What the Russians did cannot go unresponded to,” he said. “Otherwise you just give them a blank check.”

A bipartisan group of senators introduced the wide-ranging Counteracting Russian Hostilities Act of 2017 in January in response to Russia’s election interference as well as its activities in Ukraine, Syria, and elsewhere. Both the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Senate Banking Committee have jurisdiction over it.

Senator Lindsey Graham also said he was open to other options for getting the bill through.

“I’m all for moving forward with sanctions,” Graham told TWS. “I can’t think of a good reason not to sanction Russia.”

“The best way to do things is through the regular order—the banking committee, the foreign relations committee, it’s up to them to start the process. When the bill gets to the floor we can amend it,” Graham said. “If that doesn’t work, we’ll try to hook it onto anything that comes through the body that’s got to pass.”

Corker had said Monday that it would be better to wait on the sanctions until the Senate Intelligence Committee concludes its investigation into Russian election interference.

Graham said waiting was unnecessary, and that Russia should be punished for meddling.

“I just don’t understand why we would hesitate on sanctioning Russia,” he told reporters. “I don’t need a Senate Intel report on this, I’ve actually done my own homework. I believe the Russians were responsible for undermining our election.”

“I’m not going to be in the column of forgiving and forgetting,” he said. “Their behavior since January has gotten worse. Since the election, what have they done to re-enforce that Russia is changing in a positive way?”

Corker told TWS on Tuesday that he wanted to give the administration room to sort out the direction of its relationship with Russia, including an estimate of whether behavioral changes are possible, before moving forward with sanctions.

“Our relationship with Russia is at an all-time low since the Cold War,” he said. “The administration, I know, is working to see what trajectory that relationship is going to continue on. Is it going to continue to go south, or are there ways that Russia realizes that it’s being isolated by supporting Assad and working with Iran in the way they are?”

“Certainly we can take it to a lower level by adding sanctions,” Corker continued. “I’d rather give the administration some time to see if they can change the trajectory.”

Maryland senator Ben Cardin, the top-ranking Democrat on the committee and a co-sponsor of the legislation, said that despite his desire to see the legislation passed quickly, he preferred handling the bill through the committee process.

“I am strongly in support of trying to get sanctions done as quickly as possible, but the way our committee operates, the chairman is not accommodating us,” he said.

“There are other ways that this could move without going through the markup of the committee,” he said. “I strongly prefer working through the committee, and I am not giving up working through the committee.”

Cardin told TWS earlier that he and Corker do not agree on all aspects of Russia sanctions. “We have a different view as to the timing and need,” he said. But he stressed that Corker is on board with a “democracy fund” provision in the legislation that pushes back on Russian propaganda efforts.

Florida senator Marco Rubio told TWS that the foreign relations committee would consider the sanctions legislation this year.

“I’m confident we will get to it at some point,” Rubio said. “Certainly at some point this year, potentially before the August recess.”

This post originally appeared on Weekly Standard

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