Senate approves sanctions bill to punish Russia for meddling
WASHINGTON — The Republican-led Senate voted decisively to punish Moscow for interfering in the 2016 election by approving a wide-ranging sanctions package that targets key sectors of Russia’s economy and individuals who carried out cyber attacks.
Senators on Wednesday passed the bipartisan sanctions legislation 97-2, underscoring broad support among Republicans and Democrats for rebuking Russia after U.S. intelligence agencies determined Moscow had deliberately interfered in the presidential campaign. Lawmakers who backed the measure also cited Russia’s aggression in Syria and Ukraine.
Despite Russia’s bellicosity, there’s been no forceful response from President Donald Trump. The president has instead sought to improve relations with Moscow and rejected the implication that Russian hacking of Democratic emails tipped the election his way.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “brazen attack on our democracy is a flagrant demonstration of his disdain and disrespect for our nation,” Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the Republican chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said ahead of the vote.
“But in the last eight months, what price has Russia paid for attacking American democracy?” said McCain, who also faulted Congress for not moving more quickly.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson offered tepid support for the sanctions measure, telling the House Foreign Affairs Committee he agreed “with the sentiment” among lawmakers that Russia must be held accountable for its meddling in the election.
But Tillerson urged Congress to make the sanctions legislation doesn’t tie the president’s hands and shut down promising avenues of communication between the two former Cold War foes. He asked lawmakers “to ensure any legislation allows the president to have the flexibility to adjust sanctions to meet the needs of what is always an evolving diplomatic situation.”
If the Trump administration decides to oppose the new sanctions, they could be in a bind. The sanctions measure has been attached to a bill imposing penalties on Iran that the Senate is currently debating and which also has strong bipartisan support. So the White House would have to reject stricter punishments against Iran, which it favors, in order to derail the parts of the legislation it may object to.
Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Rand Paul, R-Ky., voted against the Russia sanctions package. Once the Iran bill passes the Senate, the legislation moves to the House for action.
Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, the top Democrat on the Banking Committee, said Trump’s failure to act could embolden Russia and lead to interference in future U.S. elections. Brown also said the veto-proof vote on the sanctions package should send a strong signal to the White House.
“If the president doesn’t sign a bill that passes the Senate with 90 votes, the president will learn yet another lesson about what the public wants,” Brown said.