Senate

Senators huddle on Russia sanctions as tensions escalate

A bipartisan group of senators met via Zoom on Monday to try to figure out a path forward on Russia sanctions legislation amid growing tensions with Moscow.

The call — which included Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and ranking member James Risch (R-Idaho) — comes as fears are growing of a potential incursion into Ukraine by Russia, which has amassed troops along the countries’ border.

Menendez, backed by 41 members of the Senate Democratic Conference and the Biden administration, introduced legislation earlier this month to impose sanctions on Russia if it invades Ukraine. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) introduced the legislation in the lower chamber last week.

Menendez has been in talks with Republicans to try to figure out a potential agreement that could get the 60 votes needed to ultimately break a filibuster and pass the Senate.

“We are working as we speak with various Republican colleagues who have their own ideas as to how to deter Putin. We are looking to amalgamate [those ideas] into the legislation that I sponsored,” Menendez told MSNBC on Friday about the talks with Republicans.

But senators are haggling over how best to deter Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Democrats have argued that having sanctions ready to go in case of an invasion could be used as a warning for Russia to de-escalate. But Republicans are pushing for at least some sanctions to be imposed immediately rather than being triggered by an invasion of Ukraine.

“Now is the time to put sanctions on, not after the fact,” Risch told Fox News Radio.

In addition to Menendez and Risch, GOP Sens. Rob Portman (Ohio), John Cornyn (Texas) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Democratic Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Chris Murphy (Conn.) and Ben Cardin (Md.) took part in Monday’s call, which was first reported by Politico.

Portman, Shaheen and Murphy recently traveled to Ukraine and have been having conversations about trying to figure out bipartisan legislation to respond to growing tensions with Russia.

But the sanctions discussion and the debate over whether to slap financial penalties on Russia before a potential invasion come as the Senate is out of town for a one-week break amid a rapidly evolving situation.

The State Department on Sunday night announced that it had ordered the evacuation of family members of U.S. government employees in Ukraine, and the Pentagon said on Monday that it is readying up to 8,500 troops to potentially deploy to Eastern Europe. The troops, if they are deployed, are not expected to be sent to Ukraine.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) have requested for their respective chambers to be briefed by the administration on Ukraine and the escalations with Russia.

Pelosi, in a “Dear Colleague” letter last week, included Russia sanctions legislation as an area that is on the House agenda as they move forward.

“The Foreign Affairs Committee under Chair Gregory Meeks is advancing legislation relating to Ukraine,” Pelosi wrote, noting that the bill will be “comprehensive and authorizes robust sanctions on Russian government officials and financial institutions and transactions.”

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