Senators eye Plan B amid Russia sanctions stalemate
Senators are trying to pass a resolution expressing support for Ukraine as they struggle to get a deal on Russia sanctions legislation.
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said that they are looking at the option, which would be to offer a nonbinding “sense of the Senate” resolution, as lawmakers prepare to leave after this week until Feb. 28.
“We’re also considering, because you know we’re going to leave here this week, either we’re going to have a sanctions package that somehow can with consent be brought to the floor or we should express the Senate’s position vis-a-vis the support of Ukraine, at a minimum, before we leave,” Menendez said.
The discussion about passing a resolution comes amid growing fears that a Russian invasion into Ukraine could happen any day now.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced on Monday that the U.S. is shuttering its embassy in Kyiv ahead of a possible invasion, which U.S. officials are warning could happen as soon as this week.
The Pentagon is looking at getting military aid to Ukrainians via ground delivery to help Kyiv, and the Biden administration is considering offering Ukraine up to $1 billion in loan guarantees.
Senators had hoped to get a deal on Russia sanctions legislation that would slap some penalties on Moscow immediately for cyberattacks and efforts to undermine the Ukrainian government, while imposing more sweeping sanctions on top Russian officials and key parts of the economy if Russian President Vladimir Putin does invade Ukraine.
But the window to pass a sanctions bill before an invasion appears to rapidly be closing.
The Senate is poised to leave by Friday for a one-week recess. Meanwhile the House is already out of town until Feb. 28, and would need to figure out a way to quickly take up any bill that can pass the Senate.
Menendez said on Monday that he had made Republicans a new offer on sanctions legislation that he characterized as being closer to their positions.
Senators had indicated earlier this month that they were close to a deal, but they’ve struggled amid disagreements related to secondary sanctions on Russia’s banks, which could have broader impacts across Europe, and what to do about Nord Stream 2, the pipeline that would carry natural gas from Russia to Germany.
Without a deal on sanctions that can move quickly, senators are looking at alternatives for expressing support for Ukraine that would fall short of passing new sanctions legislation. Senators also floated releasing a statement, which unlike a resolution wouldn’t need buy-in from all 100 senators to quickly pass.
“I think it’s important that Congress speak with one voice,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio). “My hope is we can either through legislation or resolution or some other means express that and hope to play some role in deterring Russia from making a terrible mistake.”
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that there were talks ongoing about resolutions or statements “anything to show that we in the Senate are unified. Timeliness is now.”
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