Senate approves resolution warning Trump not to hand over US officials

The Senate on Thursday unanimously approved a resolution warning President TrumpDonald TrumpBiden administration to keep Trump-era rule of turning away migrants during pandemic On The Money: Biden, Pelosi struggle with end of eviction ban | Trump attorney says he will fight release of tax returns Lack of transatlantic cooperation on trade threatens global climate change goals MORE not to let the Russian government question diplomats and other officials, shortly after the White House released a statement backpedaling on a proposal to allow Moscow to help interrogate U.S. citizens such as former Ambassador Michael McFaul.

ADVERTISEMENT

Senators voted 98-0 on the resolution spearheaded by Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerPoll: Majority of voters say more police are needed amid rise in crime America's middle class is getting hooked on government cash — and Democrats aren't done yet The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate finalizes .2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill MORE (D-N.Y.) and Democratic Sens. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezThis week: Senate starts infrastructure sprint Lobbying world This week: Congress starts summer sprint MORE (N.J.), Dick DurbinDick DurbinCongress should butt out of Supreme Court's business Inmates grapple with uncertainty over Biden prison plan Democrats warn shrinking Biden's spending plan could backfire MORE (Ill.) and Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzGyms, hotels, bus companies make last-ditch plea for aid On The Money: Stocks fall as COVID-19 fears rattle market | Schumer sets infrastructure showdown | Dems struggle to sell agenda The Hill's Morning Report - Surging COVID-19 infections loom over US, Olympics MORE (Hawaii).

“That President Trump would even consider handing over a former U.S. ambassador to Putin and his cronies for interrogation is bewildering. …This body must agree on the importance of protecting our ambassadors. We should pass it today, not wait, not show any equivocation,” Schumer said ahead of the vote, which was scheduled before the White House backtracked.

The nonbinding resolution comes amid growing frustration in the Senate over the White House's warmer stance toward Moscow, especially after the joint summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Trump earlier this week.

The potential that Trump could allow Russia to question U.S. officials had been in the headlines since the summit in Helsinki.

Putin said during a press conference with Trump on Monday that the Kremlin would permit special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel MORE’s team to travel to Russia and attend the questioning of 12 Russian intelligence officers indicted in the probe, if Russia is allowed to help interrogate some people “who have something to do with illegal actions in the territory of Russia.”

The White House initially refused to shoot down the proposal. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters on Wednesday that Trump was “gonna meet with his team” to talk about the potential for Russian officials to question U.S. citizens.

But Sanders on Thursday released a statement backtracking on the proposed arrangement.

“It is a proposal that was made in sincerity by President Putin, but President Trump disagrees with it. Hopefully President Putin will have the 12 identified Russians come to the United States to prove their innocence or guilt," she said in her statement.

The resolution, which the Senate voted on shortly after the new White House statement, states that the U.S. "should refuse to make available any current or former diplomat, civil servant, political appointee, law enforcement official or member of the Armed Forces of the United States for questioning by the government of Vladimir Putin."

Democratic senators had been expected to ask for unanimous consent to pass the resolution, which would have allowed any one senator to block it. Two other Russia-related resolutions — one from Sens. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeBiden nominates former Sen. Tom Udall as New Zealand ambassador Biden to nominate Jane Hartley as UK ambassador: report The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Voting rights will be on '22, '24 ballots MORE (R-Ariz.) and Christopher CoonsChris Andrew CoonsGraham's COVID-19 'breakthrough' case jolts Senate Lack of transatlantic cooperation on trade threatens global climate change goals Bottom line MORE (D-Del.) and another from Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersFive things to watch in two Ohio special election primaries This week: Senate starts infrastructure sprint Senators introduce bipartisan infrastructure bill in rare Sunday session MORE (I-Vt.) — were blocked earlier Thursday

Instead, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOn The Money: Biden, Pelosi struggle with end of eviction ban | Trump attorney says he will fight release of tax returns Graham's COVID-19 'breakthrough' case jolts Senate McConnell warns Democrats against 'artificial timeline' for infrastructure deal MORE (R-Ky.) set up the Thursday afternoon vote, giving lawmakers the chance to go on record as they face intense pressure to pass new Russia legislation after the Helsinki summit and the indictment of 12 Russian nationals for meddling in the 2016 election.

A simple majority was needed to pass the resolution. Democrats, and some Republicans, had been highly critical of the idea of allowing Russian officials to come to the U.S. for interrogations. 

Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP How leaving Afghanistan cancels our post-9/11 use of force The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her  MORE (R-Tenn.), while calling the resolution “somewhat meaningless,” summed up the proposal as a “bad idea.”

“I have no idea how that’s even come into consciousness,” Corker said.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham's COVID-19 'breakthrough' case jolts Senate Graham says he has COVID-19 'breakthrough' infection Graham, Cuellar press Biden to name border czar MORE (R-S.C.), a sometimes ally of the president’s, told The Hill on Thursday that allowing Russia to question Americans would be “absurd and naive.”

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynBiden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet Senate votes to take up infrastructure deal Biden officials pledge to confront cybersecurity challenges head-on MORE (Texas), the No. 2 Senate Republican, dismissed the potential agreement as “terrible” offer.

“There was some conversation about it, but there wasn’t a commitment made on behalf of the United States,” Sanders said. “The president will work with his team, and we’ll let you know if there’s an announcement on that front.”

Russian state media reported that McFaul and Christopher Steele, author of the so-called Steele dossier, are among those whom Russia wants to question as part of its investigation into Bill Browder, an American-born financier who lobbied on behalf of legislation that imposed sanctions against Russia. 

Updated: 8:57 p.m.