President Obama should consider boycotting the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia if the Cold War-era foe gives asylum to Edward Snowden, Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - Tight security for Capitol rally; Biden agenda slows Trump offers sympathy for those charged with Jan. 6 offenses Lindsey Graham: Police need 'to take a firm line' with Sept. 18 rally attendees MORE told The Hill on Tuesday.
“I would. I would just send the Russians the most unequivocal signal I could send them,” Graham (R-S.C.) said when asked about the possibility of a boycott.
“It might help, because what they’re doing is outrageous,” he said. “We certainly haven’t reset our relationship with Russia in a positive way. At the end of the day, if they grant this guy asylum it’s a breach of the rule of law as we know it and is a slap in the face to the United States.”
Snowden, who has been charged with espionage for leaking details about two National Security Agency programs that collected information about U.S. telephone calls and international Internet usage, officially filed a request for temporary asylum in Russia on Tuesday. He pledged to abide by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s demands that he stop leaking information that could damage the United States.
Graham is the first senator to suggest a link between the Olympics and Snowden, who has been holed up in a Moscow airport for weeks.
Other lawmakers also suggested Obama should respond sternly if Russia offers Snowden asylum, although they were more hesitant to suggest boycotting the Olympics.
“There’s many things we can do, but I think the experience of canceling the Olympics the last time around wasn’t very good,” said Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCain20 years after 9/11, US foreign policy still struggles for balance What the chaos in Afghanistan can remind us about the importance of protecting democracy at home 'The View' plans series of conservative women as temporary McCain replacements MORE (R-Ariz.), a close ally of Graham’s.
He called instead for expanding the number of people covered by legislation sanctioning Russian human rights abusers and reversing Obama’s plans to scrap a missile-defense shield in Eastern Europe.
The U.S. and Soviet Union both boycotted the Olympics in the 1980s during the Cold War.
Then-President Carter boycotted the Summer Olympics in Moscow in 1980 over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Four years later, the Soviets responded by leading a boycott of the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.
Russia is hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, a city on Russia’s Black Sea coast near the border with Georgia. The games are set to begin Feb. 7.
The Olympics are seen as a showcase for Russia under Putin, who spoke about security preparations for the games in a Friday phone call with Obama in which the two leaders also discussed Snowden.
Tensions have been building in the already cool relationship between Russia and the Obama administration because of Snowden. The White House did not comment on Graham’s remarks.
At his press briefing Tuesday, White House press secretary Jay Carney said that the administration’s “message has been clear and consistent with every government” on how they believed Snowden should be handled.
“Our position is that Mr. Snowden ought to be expelled and returned to the United States,” Carney said, saying that Snowden would be offered “every bit of due process” to which he was entitled and arguing that he was “not a human rights activist” or “dissident.”
“This should not be something that causes long-term problems for U.S.-Russia relations,” Carney said.
Carney said Tuesday there were no plans for Obama to boycott an upcoming trip to Russia.
“The president intends to travel to Russia in September for the G-20 summit,” Carney said Tuesday. Asked if that still included a bilateral summit in Moscow ahead of the summit, he said he didn’t have anything to add.
The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezBiden threatens more sanctions on Ethiopia, Eritrea over Tigray conflict Failed drug vote points to bigger challenges for Democrats Overnight Defense & National Security — Blinken heads to the hot seat MORE (D-N.J.), said giving Snowden asylum would be a “direct affront” to the United States.
“Snowden still has access to very sensitive information, and so our national security is at risk as well,” he said. “If a country gives him asylum, then we have to look at our relationship [with] that country in a whole new way.”
Asked about a possible Olympics boycott, Menendez said he didn’t want to discuss any potential response before Snowden was granted asylum.
Sen. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinOvernight Defense & National Security: War ends, but finger pointing continues Harris presides over Senate passage of bill assisting Americans fleeing Afghanistan Senate panel votes to repeal Iraq war authorizations MORE (D-Md.), the author of the human rights bill named after deceased whistle-blower Sergei Magnitsky, said Congress would act if Snowden gets asylum.
“I wouldn’t broadcast how we’ll respond,” he said. “But there will be some response.”
Tennessee Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP How leaving Afghanistan cancels our post-9/11 use of force The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her MORE, the top Republican on Menendez’s committee, said U.S.-Russian relations are already strained enough without his weighing in.
“I don’t want to heighten the acrimony,” he said.
The White House has been aggressive in pushing countries to stay away from Snowden. Vice President Biden personally called Ecuador’s leftist president, Rafael Correa, to ask that he reconsider his offer of asylum, and the White House said there would be consequences for China and Hong Kong after the island allowed Snowden to take a flight to Moscow last month.
— Published at 4:17 p.m. and last updated at 8:31 p.m.
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