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Senate Foreign Relations takes hard line on Russia

Senate Foreign Relations takes hard line on Russia

There was bipartisan agreement in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Thursday that the legislative branch should take decisive action against Russia, even if that means circumventing the White House’s expressed desire for a better relationship between the two nations.

Ranking member Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinDemocratic senators urge Facebook to take action on anti-Muslim bigotry On The Money: Biden, Democratic leaders push for lame-duck coronavirus deal | Business groups shudder at Sanders as Labor secretary | Congress could pass retirement bill as soon as this year Top Democrat: Congress could pass retirement bill as soon as this year MORE (D-Md.) and several other senators advocated for recently proposed bipartisan legislation that would take decisions about Russian sanctions out of the hands of the White House at the hearing on "The United State, the Russian Federation and the Challenges Ahead." 

Cardin noted the bill is modeled on similar legislation regarding the Iran nuclear deal that was crafted by several committee members.

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Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Phillip Breedlove and Strategy and Statecraft Director Julianne Smith of the Center for New American Strategy told the panel it is critical to keep up a hard-line approach against Russia -- including maintaining sanctions.

“It would be a sign of weakness to ease those sanctions for anything less than full compliance with Minsk,” said Breedlove, referring to two summits between Russia and other world powers that set limits on Moscow’s role in Ukraine.

There was so much agreement between the witnesses that Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerGOP lawmaker patience runs thin with Trump tactics Former GOP senator: Republicans cannot let Trump's 'reckless' post-election claims stand Cornyn: Relationships with Trump like 'women who get married and think they're going to change their spouse' MORE (R-Tenn.) joked it was hard to tell which was a Republican and which was the Democrat.

His quip prompted Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohnny IsaksonOssoff, Warnock to knock on doors in runoff campaigns Democrats urge YouTube to remove election misinformation, step up efforts ahead of Georgia runoff Democrats press Facebook, Twitter on misinformation efforts ahead of Georgia runoff MORE (R-Ga.) to open his questions by asking who was who. 

“I’ve listened to the testimony, I can’t tell which one is which,” he said. 

Members of both parties also advocated for a special commission to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, criticizing the pace of the not-yet-in-swing investigations from committees including the House and Senate intelligence panels.

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“An investigation that goes on for two years isn’t an investigation. It’s an obstruction,” charged Sen. Jean Shaheen (D-N.H.).

Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyRepublicans ready to become deficit hawks again under a President Biden Democrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks Biden decides on pick for secretary of State MORE (D-Conn.) agreed. 

“We are five weeks into this Congress. Pretty soon we will be 10 weeks. Then we will be 15 weeks. I don’t know how we expect Europe to take a strong stand against Russian interference,” if the U.S. is not, he said. 

Members of the committee also used the hearing to push back against President Trump’s recent statements that some saw as a comparison of moral equivalence between the U.S. and Russia.

Trump told Bill O’Reilly in a Sunday interview that he respects Putin, prompting the Fox News host to call Putin a “killer.”

“We’ve got a lot of killers. What do you think — our country’s so innocent?” Trump retorted. 

“Let me say one word about something that concerned me -- Mr. Trump trying to drive a moral equivalence between the murderous activities of Mr. Putin and activities in our own country,” Cardin said Thursday.

“There is no equivalence whatsoever,” he added.

Corker quickly agreed. 

“I see no moral equivalence – none – between ourselves and the actions Russia has taken,” he said.

Corker later expressed disappointment with other comments from the same Trump interview regarding whether Russia directed the recent annexation of Ukraine.

 “Despite the unfortunate statements that end up being made, there are folks within the administration with a very, very, very different point of view. And I think us working with them to create policies with them that we would support is something we can play a role in doing,” he added.