GOP leader blocks resolution backing intelligence community on Russia

GOP leader blocks resolution backing intelligence community on Russia
© Greg Nash

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (Texas) blocked a resolution on Thursday that would have lent the Senate's support to the intelligence community's assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, which was offered up in the wake of President TrumpDonald John TrumpAlaska Republican Party cancels 2020 primary Ukrainian official denies Trump pressured president Trump goes after New York Times, Washington Post: 'They have gone totally CRAZY!!!!' MORE’s Monday meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Sens. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeFlake donates to Democratic sheriff being challenged by Arpaio in Arizona The Hill's Morning Report - Trump says US-China trade talks to resume, hails potential trade with Japan, UK Joe Arpaio to run for Maricopa County sheriff in 2020  MORE (R-Ariz.) and Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsSenate committee approves 0 million for state election security efforts Media and candidates should be ashamed that they don't talk about obesity Bill to return B in unredeemed bonds advances MORE (D-Del.) tried to pass their resolution by unanimous consent, which requires the sign off of every senator. 

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But Cornyn objected, saying senators should focus on passing new sanctions legislation and warning that they should work through the committee process

“I think we should consider sanctions, not sort of sense of the Senate resolutions that have no sting or no impact, certainly no deterrent effect on what we all want to discourage, which is Russian involvement in our 2018 elections," Cornyn said from the Senate floor.

He added that committees "ought to be permitted to call the witnesses and ask the hard questions and develop the record before we go on record as to a resolution like this." 

The measure, introduced on Wednesday, would support the intelligence community's assessment of Russian election interference days after Trump voiced skepticism about Moscow's election interference.

Flake blasted Trump's rhetoric during the summit in Helsinki, Finland, calling it an "Orwellian moment." 

"To reject these findings — and to reject the excruciatingly specific indictment against 12 named Russian operatives in deference to the word of a KGB apparatchik — is an act of will on the part of the president," Flake said. 

He added that that the "choice now leaves us contemplating a dark mystery: Why did he do that? What would compel our president to do such a thing?" 

"If ever there was a moment to think not of your party but of your country, this is it," Flake continued.

The resolution also commends the Justice Department for investigating Russia's election interference.

Trump has dismissed special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerLewandowski says Mueller report was 'very clear' in proving 'there was no obstruction,' despite having 'never' read it Fox's Cavuto roasts Trump over criticism of network Mueller report fades from political conversation MORE's probe, which is also digging into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Moscow, as a "witch hunt." 

The resolution agrees with the intelligence community's findings that the Kremlin sought to influence the 2016 presidential election and that Russia should be held accountable; calls on the administration to fully implement the sanctions against Russia that Congress passed last year; and urges congressional oversight "including prompt hearings and the release of relevant note and information" so Congress can understand the Helsinki summit.

In addition to the Flake-Coons resolution, Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulOn The Money: House votes to avert shutdown, fund government through November | Judge blocks California law requiring Trump tax returns | Senate panel approves three spending bills Paul objection snags confirmation of former McConnell staffer Defense bill talks set to start amid wall fight MORE (R-Ky.) blocked a separate resolution from Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersWarren overtakes Biden in Iowa for first time: poll The polls are asking the wrong question Sanders unveils plan to eliminate Americans' medical debt MORE (I-Vt.) that also would have demanded Trump sit down with Mueller as part of his probe. 

Trump sparked widespread backlash when he refused to condemn Russia's election meddling during the joint press conference with Putin on Monday. He tried to walk back his comments on Tuesday, saying he accepted the intelligence community's findings, but added that it could be "other people" as well. 

Flake and Coons pledged after Cornyn blocked their resolution that they would try again to pass it in the future. 

"We'll bring it back," Flake said. "I believe that this should pass, and I believe it ultimately will pass." 

—Updated at 5:17 p.m.