GOP leaders: No talk of inviting Russia delegation to Capitol

GOP leaders: No talk of inviting Russia delegation to Capitol
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Top congressional Republicans are shooting down talk of inviting a Russian delegation to the Capitol, even as GOP Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulConservatives left frustrated as Congress passes big spending bills Senate approves 4B spending bill Some employees' personal data revealed in State Department email breach: report MORE (Ky.) pitched the idea during his trip to Moscow this week.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellKey GOP senators appear cool to Kavanaugh accuser's demand Trump hints at new executive action on immigration, wants filibuster-proof Senate majority The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — The Hill interviews President Trump MORE (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanGOP super PAC drops .5 million on Nevada ad campaign Blue wave poses governing risks for Dems Dems seek to rebuild blue wall in Rust Belt contests MORE (R-Wis.) have neither issued an invitation for a delegation from the Russian legislature nor are discussing it, spokesmen for the top GOP leaders told The Hill.

"Not anything we’ve discussed," said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Ryan.

Asked if the Senate GOP leader had issued an invitation or was talking about it, McConnell spokesman David Popp added that "the short answer ... is no."

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The McConnell spokesman directed further questions to Paul's office, which didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on details of the Kentucky senator's invitation.

The pushback from GOP congressional leaders on hosting a group of their Russian counterparts comes after Paul raised the issue as part of his headline-grabbing trip this week to Moscow.

The Kentucky Republican said in a statement after a meeting with Konstantin Kosachev, the chairman of the Russian Federation Council committee on foreign affairs, that he had "invited the Russian Federation to send a delegation to the Capitol, and they have agreed to take this important next step."

Kosachev indicated that Moscow would be interested in organizing a meeting between members of the Russian legislature and their U.S. counterparts.

"The issue at hand is trying, perhaps, to organize a new meeting, this time at the level of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and the Federation Council’s Foreign Affairs Committee during the autumn session, that is, before the end of this year," he told Russian state media.

The Foreign Relations Committee, of which Paul is a member, is overseen by Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerPoll: More voters oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination than support it Ford opens door to testifying next week Police arrest nearly two dozen Kavanaugh protesters MORE (R-Tenn.), who helped craft new Russia sanctions last year and is currently discussing the potential for further penalties.

"No invitation has been extended from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee," Micah Johnson, Corker's communications director, said in a statement on Thursday.

The distance between Paul and members of GOP leadership comes as the libertarian-minded senator has emerged as one of Trump's most vocal defenders on Russia.

Paul voted against new sanctions last year and blocked a resolution last month from Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersTrump's trade war — firing all cannons or closing the portholes? The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump rips 'ridiculous' spending bill | FBI dragged into new fight | Latest on Maryland shooting Poll: Most Massachusetts voters don't think Warren should run for president in 2020 MORE (I-Vt.) to voice support for the intelligence community's findings that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election and back Trump sitting down with special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE.

"We should stand firm and say, 'Stay the hell out of our elections,' but we should not stick our head in the ground and say we're not going to talk to them," Paul said from the Senate floor.

Paul's defense of Trump comes as the president's warmer rhetoric toward Moscow — including remarks last month during a joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki casting doubt on Russia's interference in the 2016 election — has raised eyebrows in Washington.

Both McConnell and Ryan previously said they would not issue an invitation for Putin to visit the Capitol even as the administration worked to orchestrate a meeting between Trump and his Russian counterpart in Washington, D.C.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are also becoming increasingly concerned that the Kremlin is working to interfere in the 2018 midterm elections.

Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillTrump rallies in Nevada amid Supreme Court flurry: 'We're gonna get Brett' Trump boosts Heller, hammers 'Wacky Jacky' opponent in Nevada Google says senators' Gmail accounts targeted by foreign hackers MORE (Mo.), one of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents up for reelection this year, said late last month that Russian intelligence agents had targeted her staff with an attempted breach ahead of the November midterms.

While a group of GOP senators traveled to Russia last month, Paul's trip to Moscow — and him touting that he delivered a letter from Trump to Putin — has drawn questions.

"This is weird. I wonder how Ambassador [Jon] Huntsman feels about it? And separation of powers between executive and legislative branches is a good thing. Let senators be senators and ambassadors be ambassadors," former Ambassador Michael McFaul said in a tweet about Paul delivering the letter.

The White House later clarified that the letter was an introduction for Paul to Putin, adding that it was requested by the GOP senator.

Paul has defended his trip, and his rhetoric, arguing it's important to keep a dialogue open between the United States and Russia despite the sour state of relations.

Doug Stafford, an adviser for Paul, told the Louisville Courier-Journal that the senator was acting in his capacity as a member of the Foreign Relations Committee "and in cooperation with President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump rallies in Nevada amid Supreme Court flurry: 'We're gonna get Brett' Trump: 'Good news' that Obama is campaigning again Trump boosts Heller, hammers 'Wacky Jacky' opponent in Nevada MORE and the State Department." 

"Other senators  ... may join in efforts for dialogue, diplomacy, and peace if they see fit," Stafford added in the statement to the Kentucky newspaper. "Senator Paul didn’t need anyone’s permission to extend this invite."