Senators on precipice of Russia sanctions deal
Senators say they are on the brink of clinching a deal on Russia sanctions legislation, as they work to reach a final agreement on text of a bill.
The progress comes after the talks appeared to hit a snag earlier this week, as the group struggled to resolve two of their biggest sticking points: If some sanctions should be implemented immediately and how to handle the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that will carry gas from Russia to Germany.
Sen. Jim Risch (Idaho), the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, stopped short of saying that the group has a “deal in principle,” but that they were “optimistic” that they would be ready to make an announcement on an agreement “pretty soon.”
“It will be soon. When you get to where you need to be on this there’s a lot of drafting that needs to take place, and then negotiations over where the commas go and that sort of thing. So, we’re in the process of that and we’re going to have something for you very, very soon,” Risch said, when asked if a deal could be announced on Thursday or Friday.
The news from the Senate comes amid a Russian military buildup on its border with Ukraine. The Russian government has amassed over 100,000 troops at the border with the former Soviet country, prompting concern from the U.S., Canada and allies that the country will invade.
Russia, for its part, has denied it has plans to invade Ukraine.
Risch and Sen. Bob Menendez (N.J.), the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, appeared together on a CNN “State of the Union” interview on Sunday, with Menendez describing their talks as on the “one-yard line.”
But the group faced stumbling blocks when they returned to Washington that scuttled hopes among some senators for a deal earlier this week.
Menendez, on Thursday, said that he was “cautiously optimistic” that they would be able to reach an agreement. He added during an MSNBC interview on the same afternoon that they were “very close” to a final agreement.
“We’ve been working diligently around the clock to get a bipartisan package,” Menendez said.
Senators are eyeing an agreement that would include some financial penalties that would be slapped on Russia as soon as the bill becomes law, including sanctions in response to Russian cyberattacks and efforts to undermine the Ukrainian government. Senators have been discussing giving President Biden some authority to waive the sanctions, though that’s been a point of contention among the group.
“We are looking at is sanctions for actions that have already been taken by the Russians,” Menendez said.
The negotiating group has been in touch with the administration and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) as they tried to reach a deal.
Asked if the White House was on board with up-front sanctions, Menendez acknowledged that the administration would first need to see them.
Menendez declined to say how the group would address the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which has been a running point of contention between Republicans and Democrats. Democrats blocked a bill from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) earlier this year that would have slapped immediate sanctions on businesses related to the pipeline.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told reporters on Thursday that he didn’t think the group was “far off” on substance and that he thought a bill could pass “fairly quickly” once it is drafted. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who has also been involved in the talks, said she understood that the talks were “close to resolution,” but deferred to Risch and Menendez.
Senators had a closed-door briefing on Thursday on Ukraine and Russia, which several senators said underscored the need for Congress to quickly move sanctions legislation.
“I think [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and Putin’s Russia have already committed sufficient aggression against Ukraine to justify some sanctions. I think we should hold back the most aggressive and most punishing sanctions for now as a deterrent. Because the whole goal here is to keep open some space for diplomacy and to deter aggression,” said Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.).
Coons added that the briefing was just a “straight-up factual assessment … but it’s really hard to listen to all that and not conclude that we need to do more.”
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), McConnell’s No. 2, appeared optimistic that senators would be able to strike a deal on sanctions, but indicated that they needed to move quickly amid concerns that Putin could invade Ukraine.
“I think that the sooner we do it, the better,” Thune said.
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