Senior senators in both parties are making headway in a push for a vote on sanctioning Russia when the upper chamber takes up a bipartisan Iran sanctions bill later this week, according to a Senate source.
Leading the charge for considering Russia sanctions during the Senate’s Iran debate are Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), John McCain, and Lindsey Graham, the source said.
Schumer, McCain, and Graham have long pushed back on President Donald Trump’s reported interest in easing sanctions on Moscow, and Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) has recently expressed openness to taking up a Russia sanctions package this summer.
Talks are ongoing over the details of the Senate’s potential Russia sanctions amendment, which could include additional punitive measures against Vladimir Putin’s government or a conversion of existing sanctions into law to make it harder for Trump to roll them back, the Senate source said. Legislation would add more oversight before Trump could ease current sanctions against Russia has 22 cosponsors, led by Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, the foreign relations panel’s top Democrat.
Graham said Tuesday that he wants to get tougher on Russia, which has been linked to meddling in the 2016 election and other disruptive hacking tactics.
"We either do it on [the] Iran sanctions [bill] or we get a commitment from Chairman Corker that we’re going to have a Russia day on the floor," the South Carolina Republican told reporters. "We have an Iranian day — tell me we’re going to have a Russia day where we all can have our views about what to do about Russia, I’m good to go."
Graham said he would prefer to see a stand-alone vote on punishing Russia, as opposed to an amendment on the Iran bill. McCain took a dimmer view of that option. Asked in a brief interview about Corker’s support for a separate Russia sanctions bill, the Arizona Republican said only: "God bless him," and "good luck."
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has underscored his desire to crack down on Moscow, stating before Trump’s inauguration that "the Russians are not our friends."
The Trump White House has sent mixed signals on the issue, however, with Vice President Mike Pence affirming in February that the administration would consider changes in exchange for greater Russian cooperation on anti-terrorism efforts. Trump’s top economic adviser, Gary Cohn, last month clarified that "if anything, we would probably look to get tougher on Russia" after appearing to suggest that easing sanctions remained on the table.
Burgess Everett contributed to this report.