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Congress Threatens Legislation to Keep Russia Sanctions

John McCain, Adam Schiff and Rob Portman in no mood to make nice

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is in no mood for talk about warmer relations with Russia. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is in no mood for talk about warmer relations with Russia. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle pushed back hard at hints that President Donald Trump would lift economic sanctions against Russia.

Appearing alongside British Prime Minister Theresa May on Friday, Trump said it was “very early to be talking about” lifting sanctions on Russia, a point echoed by May. But the reports of the White House drafting executive actions to do that haven’t gone away, and Trump didn’t do much to dispel them himself as he prepares for a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday.

“We will see what happens,” he said.

But a range of members of Congress, from the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, to the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee to a middle-of-the-road Chamber of Commerce-type Midwestern senator, all had strong words for the chief executive on the topic. Some even threatened legislation to make the sanctions law.

“For the sake of America’s national security and that of our allies, I hope President Trump will put an end to this speculation and reject such a reckless course. If he does not, I will work with my colleagues to codify sanctions against Russia into law,” Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain said in a release blasted out as the Trump and May were visiting.

The Arizona Republican has already this year co-sponsored bipartisan legislation to punish Russia for the cyberattacks the intelligence community says it launched on the United States, as well as supported an investigation into Russian attempts to influence last year’s presidential election.

[John McCain Wants Tough Talk on Russia From Trump]

McCain’s threat of legislation was backed up across the Capitol, and the aisle, by House Intelligence ranking member Adam B. Schiff of California.

“Should Trump unilaterally roll them back, Congress must reimpose these sanctions and more, overriding a presidential veto if necessary. To do otherwise will only encourage and reward Russia for its aggressive violation of international law, its war crimes in Syria and its other deplorable conduct around the world,” Schiff said in a statement.

Even the mild-mannered Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who has joined McCain in legislation aimed at curbing Russian abuses, got into the act.

“I believe the U.S. Senate should take pro-active steps to codify the sanctions against Russia into law to ensure we live up to our commitments to our allies and uphold longstanding American values and ideals,” he wrote in a release.

To put a fine point on it, McCain felt the need to send along this reminder to Trump as he talks with Putin on the phone: “He should remember that the man on the other end of the line is a murderer and a thug who seeks to undermine American national security interests at every turn. For our commander-in-chief to think otherwise would be naïve and dangerous.”

John T. Bennett, Rachel Oswald and Ryan Lucas contributed to this story

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