McConnell calls for Senate hearings on Russia sanctions

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellCoronavirus talks on life support as parties dig in, pass blame Jobs report poised to light fire under COVID-19 talks Overnight Health Care: Ohio governor tests positive for COVID-19 ahead of Trump's visit | US shows signs of coronavirus peak, but difficult days lie ahead | Trump: COVID-19 vaccine may be ready 'right around' Election Day MORE (R-Ky.) on Thursday said he has asked two key Senate panels to hold hearings on Russia sanctions and make suggestions for legislation.

McConnell met with Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerTennessee primary battle turns nasty for Republicans Cheney clashes with Trump Sessions-Tuberville Senate runoff heats up in Alabama MORE (R-Tenn.) and Banking Committee Chairman Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoTop GOP senator urges agencies to protect renters, banks amid coronavirus aid negotiations Chamber of Commerce, banking industry groups call on Senate to pass corporate diversity bill Senate panel advances Trump Fed nominee who recently supported gold standard MORE (R-Idaho) on Wednesday night to discuss steps to advance legislation following President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden says his faith is 'bedrock foundation of my life' after Trump claim Coronavirus talks on life support as parties dig in, pass blame Ohio governor tests negative in second coronavirus test MORE's meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki earlier this week.

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"I tasked the chairmen of the Banking and Foreign Relations committees with holding hearings on the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, and to recommend to the Senate additional measures that could respond to or deter Russian malign behavior," McConnell said in a statement Thursday.

Congress overwhelmingly passed Russia sanctions last year as part of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, despite pushback from the White House.

Senate leadership is under growing pressure to pass additional sanctions legislation following the Trump-Putin summit amid heightened concerns that Russia is trying to meddle in the November elections.

McConnell added on Thursday that he requested the hearings and recommendations on potential legislative steps as part of Congress's effort "to form part of any national response" to Russian interference in the United States or other countries.

GOP senators have been locked in a days-long debate over what they should do to try to crack down on Russia. One bill, which is gathering momentum among senators on both sides of the aisle, would slap new sanctions on Russia if the director of national intelligence finds that they interfere in future U.S. elections.

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioPessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire McConnell: Wearing a mask is 'single most significant thing' to fight pandemic McConnell goes hands-off on coronavirus relief bill MORE (R-Fla.) told reporters on Wednesday that lawmakers were discussing whether to send his legislation directly to the Senate floor since going through the committee process could slow down any legislative response.

Another bill, from Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerThe US military has options against China McConnell goes hands-off on coronavirus relief bill Group of GOP senators back more money for airlines to pay workers MORE (R-Colo.), would ask the State Department to determine if Russia is a state sponsor of terrorism, a designation that triggers U.S. sanctions.

The effort to move forward on Russia legislation comes as congressional Republicans have been reluctant to confront Trump on a range of issues, including immigration and trade. A showdown could spark backlash from the party's fervent base, where the president remains popular, just months before the midterms.

Republicans on Capitol Hill have released a flurry of statements in recent days saying that they disagreed with Trump's hesitancy to say Russia meddled in the 2016 election.

“The Intelligence Community Assessment of Russian Activities in the 2016 elections makes clear that President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign aimed at undermining public faith in our democratic process," McConnell said on Thursday.