GOP lawmakers plan official visit to Russia later this week

GOP lawmakers plan official visit to Russia later this week
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A group of GOP lawmakers is heading to Russia at the end of the week as part of new ”high-level" talks between the two countries, including a potential meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

GOP Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyCongress reaches deal to fund government through Dec. 7, preventing shutdown Senate approves first 2019 spending package GOP shrugs off Trump shutdown threat MORE (Ala.) told reporters on Monday evening that he's invited GOP Sens. Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesCongress passes bill to require Senate campaign filings to be made electronically Congress just failed our nation’s veterans when it comes to medical marijuana Sanders: Public should be ‘very concerned’ about election security in 2018 MORE (Mont.), John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneWant to improve health care? Get Americans off of their couches More Dems want focus on job creation than wage growth Google, Apple, Amazon execs to testify at Senate privacy hearing this month MORE (S.D.), John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (La.), Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranMcConnell: Sessions should stay as attorney general Tougher Russia sanctions face skepticism from Senate Republicans Farm groups fear Trump aid won’t fix trade damage MORE (Kan.) and John HoevenJohn Henry HoevenOvernight Energy: Trump Cabinet officials head west | Zinke says California fires are not 'a debate about climate change' | Perry tours North Dakota coal mine | EPA chief meets industry leaders in Iowa to discuss ethanol mandate 74 protesters charged at Capitol in protest of Kavanaugh Big Oil’s carbon capture tax credit betrayal MORE (N.D.), as well as Rep. Kay GrangerNorvell (Kay) Kay GrangerThe stakes are sky-high for the pro-life cause in the upcoming midterms Bipartisanship alive and well, protecting critical infrastructure McCarthy's path to Speaker gets more complicated MORE (R-Texas), to take part in the congressional delegation. 

Shelby said the group would be taking part in "high-level meetings," but signaled that they are still locking down with whom they will be meeting. 

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"I'm sure we'll have some high-level meetings. ... [Russia] at times can be an adversary. But they're somebody that I think, just like China and others, that we should be talking to. See if there's any common ground," Shelby told reporters of the upcoming trip. 

Asked about a potential face-to-face with Putin, Kennedy said they are "trying to set it up" but wasn't sure it would happen. 

"I want to talk about Russia's interference in our election, in the Brexit election, in [French President Emmanuel] Macron's election, in [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel's election and God knows how many other elections. I want to talk about Ukraine. I want to talk about Crimea. I want to talk about Syria," Kennedy told reporters, asked what he hoped to talk about with Putin if they are able to set up a meeting. 

Kennedy added that he also wants to talk about trade and the Russian economy, where, he says, Moscow is "spending a whole lot of money on guns and not very much on butter." 

The trip comes as the administration is stepping up outreach to Russia as they eye a potential summit between Putin and President TrumpDonald John TrumpLondon terror suspect’s children told authorities he complained about Trump: inquiry The Memo: Tide turns on Kavanaugh Trump to nominate retiring lawmaker as head of trade agency MORE

White House national security adviser John Bolton is heading to Russia this week to discuss a potential meeting between Trump and Putin, which media reports indicate could take place next month. 

The Washington Post reported earlier this month that Jon Huntsman, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, is helping organize the lawmakers’ trip, which comes after Sens. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonKavanaugh, accuser to testify publicly on Monday Kavanaugh furor intensifies as calls for new testimony grow House panel advances DHS cyber vulnerabilities bills MORE (R-Wis.), John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoTrump privately calls Mattis ‘Moderate Dog’: report Push to change wildlife act sparks lobbying blitz House and Senate negotiators reach agreement on water infrastructure bill MORE (R-Wyo.) and Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenSome employees' personal data revealed in State Department email breach: report Dems seek ways to block Trump support for Saudi-led coalition in Yemen Hillicon Valley: Trump signs off on sanctions for election meddlers | Russian hacker pleads guilty over botnet | Reddit bans QAnon forum | FCC delays review of T-Mobile, Sprint merger | EU approves controversial copyright law MORE (D-N.H.) scrapped a trip to Russia late last year because Moscow denied Shaheen entry into the country. 

U.S.–Russia relations have been rocky since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 — a move Western nations say was illegal — and soured further over Moscow's meddling in the 2016 election.