Democrats seek to avoid internal disputes over Russia and China

Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerDemocrats make final plea for voting rights ahead of filibuster showdown DACA highlights pitfalls of legalization schemes The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Schumer tees up doomed election reform vote MORE (D-N.Y.) is looking for a way to avoid a messy public split between President BidenJoe BidenBiden says he didn't 'overpromise' Finland PM pledges 'extremely tough' sanctions should Russia invade Ukraine Russia: Nothing less than NATO expansion ban is acceptable MORE and Senate Democrats over Russia and China policy by looking for a way to neutralize tough amendments on those two hot-button topics.

Pressure is growing on Congress to act as Biden is scheduled to hold a video call with Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinRussia: Nothing less than NATO expansion ban is acceptable Biden huddles with group of senators on Ukraine-Russia tensions US providing Ukraine with additional 0M in military aid amid tensions with Russia MORE to warn against a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Senate Democratic Whip Dick DurbinDick DurbinDemocrats make final plea for voting rights ahead of filibuster showdown Democrats, poised for filibuster defeat, pick at old wounds  Schumer prepares for Senate floor showdown with Manchin, Sinema MORE (D-Ill.) on Monday acknowledged that U.S.-Russia policy has taken on new importance amidst reports that Russia has 70,000 troops in Ukraine and plans to mass 175,000 troops along its border with Ukraine in preparation for an invasion early next year.

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Durbin said there’s more pressure on lawmakers to pass some kind of new sanctions legislation on Russia.

“I’m very concerned with Putin. We know it isn’t just his provocation and disruption. He took Crimea and still occupies it. He threatens the Baltics and he should be taken very seriously,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocrats make final plea for voting rights ahead of filibuster showdown Mellman: Voting rights or the filibuster?  Budowsky: To Dems: Run against the do-nothing GOP, Senate MORE (R-Ky.) on Monday called on Biden to take tougher stance with Putin during his call.

“President Biden has an opportunity to set the tone when he speaks with Putin tomorrow,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “The stakes for the president’s call with Putin couldn’t be clearer. We know what happens when the United States fails to engage with Russia from a position of strength. We know what weakness and capitulation get us.”

Republicans are pairing their pressure campaign on Biden with a push for a vote on tougher sanctions legislation in Congress.

Republicans are demanding a vote on an amendment sponsored by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman James Risch (R-Idaho) and Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSupreme Court appears divided over Cruz campaign finance challenge Democrats, poised for filibuster defeat, pick at old wounds  O'Rourke says he raised record .2M since launching campaign for Texas governor MORE (R-Texas) to sanction the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, a top Putin priority that would undermine the national security of Ukraine.

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But Biden’s Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenRussia: Nothing less than NATO expansion ban is acceptable US providing Ukraine with additional 0M in military aid amid tensions with Russia Blinken: Russian attack on Ukraine could be launched with 'very short notice' MORE has lobbied against the effort and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack ReedJack ReedDefense bill sets up next fight over military justice  Ukraine president, US lawmakers huddle amid tensions with Russia Photos of the Week: Tornado aftermath, Medal of Honor and soaring superheroes MORE (D-R.I.) blocked a vote on tougher sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline before Thanksgiving.

The amendment appeared to have a chance of getting a vote last week, but that effort fell apart after Democrats and Republicans couldn’t agree on a package of amendments.

Democrats found some political cover on the Nord Steam 2 issue when Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezDems block Cruz's Nord Stream 2 sanctions bill Overnight Defense & National Security — Differences remain between NATO, Russia Senate Democrats unveil bill sanctioning Russia over Ukraine MORE (D-N.J.) put together an alternative sanctions amendment that Democrats believe will be more palatable to the Biden administration.

But Republicans say the Menendez amendment is a poor alternative because they argue it hasn’t been fully vetted.

They are still insisting on a floor showdown over Nord Stream 2 to hash out the differences between the two proposals. They also hope to drive a wedge between Democrats and the Biden administration on the proposal.

Schumer on Monday hinted he may sidestep a messy floor fight altogether by bringing a finalized defense bill to the floor later in the week after negotiations with the House and avoid voting on any amendments at all.

He told colleagues that leaders “anticipate we will be able to reach a final conference agreement on the NDAA,” or National Defense Authorization Act, even though the Senate didn’t get to pass its own version of the bill because of last week’s fight over amendments.

While the final version of the bill, which has been hammered out by Democratic members of the Senate and House Armed Services committees, will be subject to amendments when it comes to the floor — because technically it’s a House-passed bill and not a true conference report — Republicans don’t expect there to be any votes.

“I know there’s interest on both sides of the aisle on both subjects,” said Senate Republican Whip John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneDemocrats make final plea for voting rights ahead of filibuster showdown Sinema scuttles hopes for filibuster reform How a nice-guy South Dakota senator fell into a Trump storm MORE (S.D.), who said he doesn’t expect Schumer to allow votes on the Russia- and China-related amendments despite bipartisan support for a tougher policy stance on both Russia and China.

Schumer cited procedural problems in the House when he initially blocked consideration of the Risch-Cruz amendment on Nord Stream 2 sanctions and Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioI'm furious about Democrats taking the blame — it's time to fight back The Hill's 12:30 Report: Djokovic may not compete in French Open over vaccine requirement Florida looms large in Republican 2024 primary MORE’s (R-Fla.) amendment to ban the import of manufactured goods from China’s Xinjiang region.

Republicans, however, said that the arguments from Schumer and Reed that the Risch-Cruz and Rubio amendments would face a procedural “blue slip” objection from the House Ways and Means Committee was a political smokescreen to avoid tough votes.

The Biden administration has also raised concerns about the Rubio amendment, the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, because it could interfere with the administration’s strategic plan to negotiate with China.

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Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin reported last week that Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman urged the Democratic co-sponsor of Rubio’s forced-labor bill, Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleySinema scuttles hopes for filibuster reform Lawmakers seek 'assurances' Olympic uniforms not linked to forced labor Watch Live: Schumer, Senate Democrats hold press conference MORE (D-Ore.) to slow down on pushing the proposal.

Sherman informed Merkley that the administration wanted a more targeted and deliberative approach to deciding what goods are labeled as the products of forced labor, according to Rogin.

The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act passed the Senate in July by unanimous consent, so it would not be politically feasible to set it up against a side-by-side Democratic amendment on Chinese products that might be easier for the administration to accept.

Senate Democratic and Republican aides say Schumer and McConnell are now mulling adding to the defense bill a proposal to raise the debt limit, though the precise details about how that would be done are being kept secret.

Some Republican aides predict that adding debt-limit language to the bill, and making it even more important to pass, will allow Schumer to argue that the defense bill shouldn’t be further changed in a way that would require it to be sent back to the House and perhaps make it tougher to pass in the lower chamber.

That scenario would make it even more unlikely that Democrats will be forced to vote on either tougher sanctions against Russia or China at a time when the Biden administration is pushing for more flexibility in dealing with those two governments.

“I think they’re getting a lot of pressure from corporate America, I think there are elements in this administration that are worried about destabilizing the relationship with China, that it would be an irritant, that it would hurt their ability to do a China deal with China,” Rubio said of why the administration is opposed to the forced-labor provision.

Rubio noted that Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiJoining Pelosi, Hoyer says lawmakers should be free to trade stocks Budowsky: To Dems: Run against the do-nothing GOP, Senate Momentum builds to prohibit lawmakers from trading stocks MORE (D-Calif.) says she will vote on separate companion House legislation to the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act but that he would reserve judgment on it until he reviews its details.