Senators vow to counter Trump on Russia

Senators vow to counter Trump on Russia
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Senators are pledging to take a firm line with Russia next year, setting up a potential conflict with incoming President Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpClinton takes swipe at 'false equivalency' in media coverage of 2016 election Trump asked Netanyahu if he actually cares about peace: report Official: Trump to urge North Korea to dismantle nuclear program in return for sanctions relief MORE.

Skeptical of Trump’s warmer relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, lawmakers in both parties are breaking with the incoming administration to carve out a tougher stance.

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Lawmakers would like the president-elect to rein in Russia, but they’re also signaling that Congress will act on its own.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamKorean peace talks pose new challenge for Trump GOP sold Americans a bill of goods with tax reform law Republicans divided over legislation protecting Mueller MORE (R-S.C.) said when it comes to Russia he’s planning to be “a bit of a hard ass.”

“We cannot sit on the sidelines as a party and let allegations against a foreign government interfering in our election process go unanswered because it may have been beneficial to our case for the moment,” he said.

The Obama administration formally accused Russia of hacking and leaking Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails last month as lawmakers debated how to respond to Moscow.

Graham added that he is planning a multi-pronged approach: A package to better help allies in eastern Europe counter Russian aggression and a series of hearings to shine a spotlight on Russia's “misadventures.”

Graham’s closest ally, Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainRomney forced into GOP primary for Utah Senate nomination Trump considering pardon for boxing legend after call from Sylvester Stallone GOP poised to advance rules change to speed up Trump nominees MORE (R-Ariz.), the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, separately warned Trump against another “reset” of U.S.-Moscow relations, arguing that he should be skeptical of Putin’s quest for a better relationship.

"We should place as much faith in such statements as any other made by a former KGB agent who has plunged his country into tyranny, murdered his political opponents, invaded his neighbors, threatened America's allies and attempted to undermine America's elections," McCain said.

The increased pressure from the Senate comes as the House passed legislation that would impose mandatory sanctions on anyone who provides financial or technological support to Syria’s government, which is mired in a civil war. The bill was widely seen as targeting Russia and Iran, the Syrian regime's two biggest backers.

GOP lawmakers have bristled for years, believing President Obama hasn’t been firm enough against Putin, or done enough — including providing lethal aid — to help Ukrainian fighters combat Russian-backed separatists.  

Lawmakers have also quietly voiced concerns about Trump’s positioning on Moscow for months, but are increasingly speaking up as the president-elect begins to set up his administration.

Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffOvernight Defense: Trump steps up fight with California over guard deployment | Heitkamp is first Dem to back Pompeo for State | Dems question legality of Syria strikes Top Dems demand answers from Trump over legality of Syria strikes New York seeks authority to prosecute despite presidential pardons MORE (D-Calif.), ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, questioned the choice of former military intelligence chief Michael Flynn as Trump’s national security advisor.

"I am deeply concerned about his views on Russia, which over the last 12 months have demonstrated the same fondness for the autocratic and belligerent Kremlin which animate President-elect Trump's praise of Vladimir Putin," Schiff said.

Sen. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinThe Hill's 12:30 Report Dems give muted praise to Pompeo-Kim meeting Key Dem to oppose Pompeo nomination MORE (D-Md.) echoed that Friday, saying he is “disturbed by General Flynn’s relationships and ties with Russian actors.”

Flynn retired from the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014 after a rocky tenure and reports that he was forced out. He's been increasingly critical of Obama since leaving the military. 

Cardin, the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, is pushing Congress to pass new legislation, while also noting President Obama could take additional action before he leaves office.

“There are Democrats and Republicans that are, I think most members of Congress, that are very concerned about Russia’s activities and how we try to reconcile that with statements that Donald Trump made during the course of his campaign,” he said at a Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Russia forum.

Cardin, who is keeping Dems' top spot on the Foreign Relations panel next year, said he would introduce “comprehensive” legislation to push back against Russia’s “violation of international norms.”

He added that the legislation would push back against Russian cyberattacks and “put on the table” expanded sanctions against individuals found to be tied to the hacks.

Cardin has previously noted diplomats' concerns about Trump. He said Friday that a Trump administration must recognize that Russia is a “global bully and adversary…[it is] not a partner.”

With the Senate facing a limited year-end schedule, and a myriad of policy issues left to tackle including funding the government, the House legislation targeting Russia isn’t likely to get passed by the Senate this year.

Any legislation in the Senate targeting Russia would also need to go through the Foreign Relations Committee.

Noting the short schedule, Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerKorean peace talks pose new challenge for Trump GOP senator: Democratic opposition to Pompeo 'driven 100 percent by politics' Corker: Charming North Korea into getting rid of nuclear weapons is not realistic MORE (R-Tenn.), the committee chairman, said “that’s something we’ll take up after the first of the year.”

But Corker demurred when asked what the Trump White House's response would be to new legislation cracking down on Russia.  

“I don’t really know,” he said. “I think people are trying to figure out where they are going to be.”