- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Senators voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to write stiff sanctions against Russia into law and to give Congress a say should President Trump try to lift them, making a bipartisan strike against the government of President Vladimir Putin.

The sanctions were intended to be a punishment for Russia’s meddling in Ukraine as well as pushback to the Moscow government’s attempts to interfere in the U.S. election last year, lawmakers said.

“We cannot let Russia’s meddling in our elections go unpunished, lest they ever consider such interference again, nor any other nation in the world,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat.

The legislation takes sanctions imposed by the Obama administration and writes them into law. If the president wants to lift the sanctions, then he must go to Congress for permission.

Sanctions are authorized on Russia’s mining and shipping sectors as well, and the government is required to study the U.S. economy’s exposure to Russian state-owned enterprises.

The 97-2 vote, which came as part of a broader debate over sanctions on Iran, marked a rare spot of agreement between Democrats and Republicans, who said they hoped it would be the beginning of more such deals.

“I think we all agree this has been a rather partisan beginning to a new administration. But this bill is a conspicuous exception to that,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.

But Democrats said the message of the Russia sanctions was aimed not just at Moscow, but also at the White House.

Mr. Schumer said Mr. Trump has been “far too eager” to float the idea of sanctions relief with Russia and that the point of the amendment was to take the decision out of the executive’s hands.

Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican, said the amendment was also meant to recover from President Obama’s term, when he circumvented Congress and used executive powers to try to shape sanctions.

“This legislation ensures that Congress — both now and in the future — will be able to weigh in on behalf of the American people,” he said.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, ticked off a series of Russian aggressions that he said have gone without retaliation: annexation of Crimea, intervention in Syria, meddling in Ukraine and threatening NATO countries, as well as the U.S. election interference.

“But in the past eight months, what price has Russia paid for attacking American democracy? Hardly any at all,” he said. “We must take our own side in this fight — not as Republicans, not as Democrats, but as Americans.”

The full Iran sanctions bill must be approved by the Senate, and then the whole package will go to the House. Democrats demanded that Mr. Trump commit to signing the legislation.

Just two Republican senators — Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah — voted against the Russia sanctions amendment.

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