Senate

Dems play hardball on Russia sanctions

Greg Nash

Top Senate Democrats are warning they could block a bipartisan Iran sanctions bill if it does not include tougher financial penalties on Moscow.

Sen. Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, will not agree to move the Iran bill to move forward on the floor “until there is a clear and satisfactory path forward on Russia sanctions,” a senior aide to the Maryland Democrat said Thursday.

Senators voted to advance the Iran sanctions bill on Wednesday in a 91-8 vote, underscoring the bill’s broad bipartisan support.
 
But lawmakers will need to take another procedural vote as early as Thursday evening, and Republicans will need at least 60 votes, including support from at least eight Democrats, to clear procedural hurdles.
 
{mosads}Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on Thursday that he thought lawmakers could get a deal, but underlined the need for the Russian element.
 
“We on the Democratic side feel very strongly that we need a tough, effective package of Russia sanctions to move alongside Iran sanctions,” he said.
 
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, also said he didn’t support moving forward with the Iran bill, saying lawmakers “need to put this package together.”
 
“They’re only giving us one chance to impose Russian sanctions and after what they did to us this last election we ought to seize this opportunity,” he said. 
 
Democrats are pushing to include a broad sanctions proposal that would mirror legislation introduced by Cardin and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), as well as a separate bill from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), that would make it harder for President Trump to lift existing sanctions on Russia. 
  
The Cardin-McCain bill would would slap financial penalties on Russia for its election interference, as well as ongoing conflicts in Ukraine and Syria. It would codify sanctions implemented under the Obama administration by executive order.
 
Separately, Sens. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) announced a sanctions agreement last week that would “codify and strengthen” existing sanctions, and include new sanctions on human rights abuses, “malicious cyber activity” and supplying weapons to the Syrian government. 
 
Most Republicans have held off from backing new Russia sanctions as they tried to give the Trump administration time to improve the U.S.-Russia relationship, which soured under the Obama administration, and make progress in Syria. 
 
But top Republicans are appearing increasingly confident this week that they will pass new penalties against Russia, even amid investigations into potential contacts between President Trump’s campaign and the Russian hackers who meddled in the presidential election.
 
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) indicated on the Senate floor that he expects votes on Russia sanctions, but the exact scope is still being sorted out. 
 
The senior aide for Cardin downplayed the chances that a Russia proposal wouldn’t be included, but added the Maryland Democrat wants to make sure what ends up in the Iran bill is “as strong as possible.” 
 
“Lots of proposals circulating and some have seemed unsatisfactory to him,” the aide said. 
Tags Ben Cardin Chuck Schumer Dick Durbin John McCain Lindsey Graham Mike Crapo Mitch McConnell Sherrod Brown

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