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Senators roll out Russia sanctions bill after election meddling

The Hill logo The Hill 11/01/2017 Jordain Carney
Senators roll out new Russia sanctions after election meddling: <span style="font-size:13px;">Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.).</span> © The Hill Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.).

Senators are rolling out new sanctions against Russia as lawmakers debate how to respond to its meddling in the U.S. presidential election.

The bipartisan legislation spearheaded by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) was introduced Tuesday and comes in response to cyberattacks as well as ongoing conflicts in Syria and Ukraine.

"We have been attacked. We have been attacked by Russia," Cardin told reporters at a press conference. "That is no longer subject to debate."

In addition to Cardin and McCain, GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Rob Portman (Ohio), Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Ben Sasse (Neb.), as well as Democratic Sens. Bob Menendez (N.J.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Dick Durbin (Ill.) and Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.) are supporting the bill.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the Senate's top Democrat, also announced separately on Tuesday that he will support the legislation, urging the Senate to take it up "promptly."

The legislation would include new sanctions for transactions with Russia's two main intelligence agencies and individuals tied to cyberattacks attacks, including freezing any assets within the United States and banning their visas.

It also includes sanctions targeting large investments in Russia's energy sector and the development of Russian energy pipelines, and pass into law recent sanctions that President Obama issued by executive order.

The legislation comes as multiple congressional committees are probing allegations that Russia meddled in the U.S. election with the aim of helping President-elect Donald Trump or are probing the Obama administration's response to the allegations.

McCain told reporters that while senators may not know what position the Trump administration may take, he urged his colleagues to put "partisanship aside" to pass new sanctions legislation.

"We have to demonstrate the costs of attacking the United States outweigh the perceived benefits," he said. "We have to respond to Vladimir Putin's behavior."

Democrats, and some Republicans, have raised concerns about Trump's warmer tone with Russia.

Senators are expected to try to pin down ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, Trump's secretary of State nominee, during a hearing Wednesday about his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Graham quipped that he "would like to thank President Putin for bringing us all together. That's hard to do around here."

The senators didn't indicate when the legislation could come up for a vote in the Senate, but said that there was a "strong interest" in passing new sanctions.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the Foreign Relations Committee chairman, is not currently signed on to the bill but said he would sit down with lawmakers again this week to discuss next steps on Russia.

The legislation also includes anti-corruption provisions aimed at bolstering governments in Eastern Europe and requires that the Treasury Department's Financial Crimes and Enforcement Network to establish a Russia unit.

The incoming Trump administration has questioned the need for more Russia sanctions.

Kellyanne Conway, a top Trump advisor, opened the door to Trump reconsidering the recent sanctions from the Obama administration.

"There does seem to be a disproportionate response, a punitive response," she told USA Today on Monday of the Obama administration's recent sanctions. "I predict that President Trump will want to make sure our sanctions are proportionate."

The Senate legislation would include a national security waiver, which would allow the president to lift the sanctions. Cardin said lawmakers were including "tough" guidelines that Trump would have to meet to waive the financial penalties.

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