Politics

After Helsinki, Senate GOP Quietly Takes Aim at Russia

Flake, Gardner, Rubio all propose Senate takes steps to deter Russian aggression

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., plans to introduce a resolution in the Senate to "reaffirm support" for the U.S. intelligence apparatus. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

At least two Republican senators are urging their colleagues to do what President Donald Trump was unwilling to do at his joint news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, on Monday: hold Russia accountable for interfering in the 2016 election and its hyper-aggressive foreign policy.

Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake is working on a measure that would “reaffirm support for the intelligence community,” he said on “Good Morning America” on Tuesday.

The measure would be a resolution, not a bill, and would carry no legislative weight other than to act as an official Senate rebuke to the president for siding with Putin over his intelligence agencies.

On Tuesday, Trump tried to walk back a comment he made at the Helsinki news conference where he said he saw “no reason to believe" Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2016.

The president told reporters at a White House meeting with GOP members of the House Ways and Means Committee that he has “full faith” in America’s intel apparatus.

Flake’s resolution would also call for “some kind of hearing or briefing by those involved” in the two-hour, one-on-one meeting between Trump and Putin in Helsinki “to try to find out what happened in that private meeting,” Flake said.

Senators could not enforce such a summons through a resolution.

Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado — whose statement after the press conference condemned Russia's history of foreign aggression but did not address the Helsinki summit or mention Trump by name — re-upped his calls for the Senate to force the State Department to determine whether Russia is a state sponsor of terrorism under U.S. law.

“I believe Russia is a state sponsor of terror,” Gardner said in his statement, “and I’ve introduced legislation that would mandate the State Department to determine whether Russia merits this designation, along with their allies Iran and Syria that are already designated.”

Gardner proposed a bill in April that would give the State Department 90 days to determine whether Russia's actions constitute such a label.

Countries designated as state sponsors of terrorism incur a number of penalties, including “restrictions on U.S. foreign assistance; a ban on defense exports and sales; certain controls over exports of dual use items; and miscellaneous financial and other restrictions,” according to the State Department.

Sen. Marco Rubio delivered a floor speech Tuesday renewing efforts to garner support for his bipartisan legislation that outlines immediate sanctions for any country that the director of national intelligence concludes interfered in a U.S. election.

“The only thing that Vladimir Putin understands is deterrence,” Rubio said.

“What the DETER Act does is it says, here is a list of sanctions, and these sanctions will go into effect immediately if the Director of National Intelligence, after intelligence assessment, determines that Russia is once again interfering in our elections,” Rubio said. “Before [Putin] even does it, he has a very clear understanding of what the price is going to be.”

Senate Majority Mitch McConnell has not indicated he will schedule a vote on Rubio’s bill, introduced alongside Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland.

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