By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Republican and Democratic senators said Tuesday they want to slap a wide range of sanctions on Russia over its cyber activities and actions in Syria and Ukraine, and force President Donald Trump to formally waive them if he has objections.
Ten senators – Republicans John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio, Ben Sasse and Rob Portman and Democrats Ben Cardin, Robert Menendez, Jeanne Shaheen, Amy Klobuchar and Richard Durbin – introduced the legislation and said they hoped to add more sponsors and push Senate leaders to allow a vote.
A sanctions bill with similar provisions is being written in the House of Representatives, led by Democrats Eliot Engel, the Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member, and Gerald Connolly, a panel member.
The measures could set up a showdown with the administration of Trump, a Republican who takes office on Jan. 20 and has repeatedly praised Russian President Vladimir Putin and criticized intelligence officials for findings linking him to attempts to influence the 2016 presidential election.
The Senate bill was introduced a day before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee holds its confirmation hearing for Trump’s nominee to be secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, who worked for years with Putin’s government as chief executive of Exxon Mobil.
Cardin, the panel’s top Democrat, said Tillerson would be questioned about whether he would support the sanctions. “This is about protecting the security of America,” he told a news conference.
The bill would impose visa bans and freeze the assets of people “who engage in significant activities undermining the cyber security of public or private infrastructure and democratic institutions” or those who aid such activities.
It would also impose sanctions on those who engage with the Russian defense or intelligence sectors, which could affect international companies doing business with Russia. It also puts into law sanctions on Russia that President Barack Obama imposed via executive order late last month.
ANGER OVER ELECTION
U.S. lawmakers have long called for a tougher response to Russian annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region and intervention in the Syrian civil war on behalf of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Their impatience has increased since intelligence agencies released a report Friday saying Putin ordered a campaign to try to sway the 2016 U.S. election in Trump’s favor.
“We have to respond to Vladimir Putin’s behavior and if we don’t, he will continue unchecked,” McCain said.
The bill also sets new sanctions over Ukraine and Syria, including putting into law four executive orders from the Obama administration sanctioning Russia over its actions in Ukraine. Among other things, it would mandate sanctions on large investments in Russia’s ability to develop its petroleum and natural gas resources.
It would let the president waive the sanctions, but only if he certified that Russia is making progress on complying with international agreements and improving its record on human rights.
Graham said he would push Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to allow the measure to come up for a vote, predicting strong bipartisan support in the Senate. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer announced he supports the bill.
“I’m not going to let 2017 go by and not challenge what Russia did. This is the best way to challenge them,” Graham said.
A McConnell spokesman responded only that he had no scheduling updates.
Lawmakers from both parties have raised questions about the decades Tillerson spent working with Russia’s government as an executive at the oil company, his ties to Putin and past criticism of U.S. sanctions on Russia.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Bill Trott and Tom Brown)