Senators vow to counter Trump on Russia

Senators vow to counter Trump on Russia
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Senators are pledging to take a firm line with Russia next year, setting up a potential conflict with incoming President Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpNASA exec leading moon mission quits weeks after appointment The Hill's Morning Report — After contentious week, Trump heads for Japan Frustration boils over with Senate's 'legislative graveyard' MORE.

Skeptical of Trump’s warmer relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, lawmakers in both parties are breaking with the incoming administration to carve out a tougher stance.

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Lawmakers would like the president-elect to rein in Russia, but they’re also signaling that Congress will act on its own.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamNew Yorker cover titled 'The Shining' shows Graham, McConnell, Barr polishing Trump's shoes Graham: 'US must be willing to intervene in Venezuela' Trump Jr. slams Republican committee chairman: 'Too weak to stand up to the Democrats' MORE (R-S.C.) said when it comes to Russia he’s planning to be “a bit of a hard ass.”

“We cannot sit on the sidelines as a party and let allegations against a foreign government interfering in our election process go unanswered because it may have been beneficial to our case for the moment,” he said.

The Obama administration formally accused Russia of hacking and leaking Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails last month as lawmakers debated how to respond to Moscow.

Graham added that he is planning a multi-pronged approach: A package to better help allies in eastern Europe counter Russian aggression and a series of hearings to shine a spotlight on Russia's “misadventures.”

Graham’s closest ally, Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMeghan McCain on Pelosi-Trump feud: 'Put this crap aside' and 'work together for America' Meghan McCain says Ben Carson should be developing brain cancer treatment, not working at HUD Graham urges Trump not to abandon infrastructure talks with Democrats MORE (R-Ariz.), the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, separately warned Trump against another “reset” of U.S.-Moscow relations, arguing that he should be skeptical of Putin’s quest for a better relationship.

"We should place as much faith in such statements as any other made by a former KGB agent who has plunged his country into tyranny, murdered his political opponents, invaded his neighbors, threatened America's allies and attempted to undermine America's elections," McCain said.

The increased pressure from the Senate comes as the House passed legislation that would impose mandatory sanctions on anyone who provides financial or technological support to Syria’s government, which is mired in a civil war. The bill was widely seen as targeting Russia and Iran, the Syrian regime's two biggest backers.

GOP lawmakers have bristled for years, believing President Obama hasn’t been firm enough against Putin, or done enough — including providing lethal aid — to help Ukrainian fighters combat Russian-backed separatists.  

Lawmakers have also quietly voiced concerns about Trump’s positioning on Moscow for months, but are increasingly speaking up as the president-elect begins to set up his administration.

Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffThe Hill's Morning Report — After contentious week, Trump heads for Japan House Intelligence enjoys breakthrough with Justice Department Schiff blasts Trump's 'un-American' order to intel agencies to cooperate with Barr probe MORE (D-Calif.), ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, questioned the choice of former military intelligence chief Michael Flynn as Trump’s national security advisor.

"I am deeply concerned about his views on Russia, which over the last 12 months have demonstrated the same fondness for the autocratic and belligerent Kremlin which animate President-elect Trump's praise of Vladimir Putin," Schiff said.

Sen. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinHouse votes to boost retirement savings On The Money: GOP angst grows over Trump's trade war | Trump promises help for 'Patriot Farmers' | Markets rebound | CBO founding director Alice Rivlin dies | Senate to vote on disaster aid bill next week Senators offer bipartisan retirement savings bill MORE (D-Md.) echoed that Friday, saying he is “disturbed by General Flynn’s relationships and ties with Russian actors.”

Flynn retired from the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014 after a rocky tenure and reports that he was forced out. He's been increasingly critical of Obama since leaving the military. 

Cardin, the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, is pushing Congress to pass new legislation, while also noting President Obama could take additional action before he leaves office.

“There are Democrats and Republicans that are, I think most members of Congress, that are very concerned about Russia’s activities and how we try to reconcile that with statements that Donald Trump made during the course of his campaign,” he said at a Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Russia forum.

Cardin, who is keeping Dems' top spot on the Foreign Relations panel next year, said he would introduce “comprehensive” legislation to push back against Russia’s “violation of international norms.”

He added that the legislation would push back against Russian cyberattacks and “put on the table” expanded sanctions against individuals found to be tied to the hacks.

Cardin has previously noted diplomats' concerns about Trump. He said Friday that a Trump administration must recognize that Russia is a “global bully and adversary…[it is] not a partner.”

With the Senate facing a limited year-end schedule, and a myriad of policy issues left to tackle including funding the government, the House legislation targeting Russia isn’t likely to get passed by the Senate this year.

Any legislation in the Senate targeting Russia would also need to go through the Foreign Relations Committee.

Noting the short schedule, Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerJeff Daniels blasts 'cowardice' of Senate Republicans against Trump Corker: 'I just don't' see path to challenge Trump in 2020 Ex-GOP Sen. Corker: Trump primary would be 'good thing for our country' MORE (R-Tenn.), the committee chairman, said “that’s something we’ll take up after the first of the year.”

But Corker demurred when asked what the Trump White House's response would be to new legislation cracking down on Russia.  

“I don’t really know,” he said. “I think people are trying to figure out where they are going to be.”