Senate Foreign Relations takes hard line on Russia

Senate Foreign Relations takes hard line on Russia

There was bipartisan agreement in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Thursday that the legislative branch should take decisive action against Russia, even if that means circumventing the White House’s expressed desire for a better relationship between the two nations.

Ranking member Ben CardinBen CardinOil concerns hold up Russia sanctions push Compounds’ fate raised after Trump-Putin talk Administration briefs Senate on progress against ISIS MORE (D-Md.) and several other senators advocated for recently proposed bipartisan legislation that would take decisions about Russian sanctions out of the hands of the White House at the hearing on "The United State, the Russian Federation and the Challenges Ahead." 

Cardin noted the bill is modeled on similar legislation regarding the Iran nuclear deal that was crafted by several committee members.

Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Phillip Breedlove and Strategy and Statecraft Director Julianne Smith of the Center for New American Strategy told the panel it is critical to keep up a hard-line approach against Russia -- including maintaining sanctions.

“It would be a sign of weakness to ease those sanctions for anything less than full compliance with Minsk,” said Breedlove, referring to two summits between Russia and other world powers that set limits on Moscow’s role in Ukraine.

There was so much agreement between the witnesses that Chairman Bob CorkerBob CorkerThe Hill's 12:30 Report Iran nuclear deal still under threat — US must keep its end of the bargain Senate heads to new healthcare vote with no clear plan MORE (R-Tenn.) joked it was hard to tell which was a Republican and which was the Democrat.

His quip prompted Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohnny IsaksonTrump labor board nominees advance in Senate Trump to GOP senators: Cancel your recess Let’s not roll back bipartisan progress on global food security MORE (R-Ga.) to open his questions by asking who was who. 

“I’ve listened to the testimony, I can’t tell which one is which,” he said. 

Members of both parties also advocated for a special commission to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, criticizing the pace of the not-yet-in-swing investigations from committees including the House and Senate intelligence panels.

“An investigation that goes on for two years isn’t an investigation. It’s an obstruction,” charged Sen. Jean Shaheen (D-N.H.).

Sen. Chris MurphyChris MurphyDems see huge field emerging to take on Trump Administration briefs Senate on progress against ISIS Iran deal faces uncertain future under Trump MORE (D-Conn.) agreed. 

“We are five weeks into this Congress. Pretty soon we will be 10 weeks. Then we will be 15 weeks. I don’t know how we expect Europe to take a strong stand against Russian interference,” if the U.S. is not, he said. 

Members of the committee also used the hearing to push back against President Trump’s recent statements that some saw as a comparison of moral equivalence between the U.S. and Russia.

Trump told Bill O’Reilly in a Sunday interview that he respects Putin, prompting the Fox News host to call Putin a “killer.”

“We’ve got a lot of killers. What do you think — our country’s so innocent?” Trump retorted. 

“Let me say one word about something that concerned me -- Mr. Trump trying to drive a moral equivalence between the murderous activities of Mr. Putin and activities in our own country,” Cardin said Thursday.

“There is no equivalence whatsoever,” he added.

Corker quickly agreed. 

“I see no moral equivalence – none – between ourselves and the actions Russia has taken,” he said.

Corker later expressed disappointment with other comments from the same Trump interview regarding whether Russia directed the recent annexation of Ukraine.

 “Despite the unfortunate statements that end up being made, there are folks within the administration with a very, very, very different point of view. And I think us working with them to create policies with them that we would support is something we can play a role in doing,” he added.