President Barack Obama’s eleventh-hour Russia sanctions present a big test for congressional Republicans, who are torn between decades-old GOP principles and their new standard-bearer’s unorthodox embrace of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Democrats are already seeking to exploit this rift, drafting legislation designed to make it harder for President-elect Donald Trump to unilaterally roll back Obama’s new sanctions.
The goal is to force Republicans into a tough spot in which they can either soften their long-standing animosity toward Russia, opening themselves to charges of hypocrisy — or defy Trump, who on Wednesday dismissed efforts to punish Russia by saying “we ought to get on with our lives.”
“Now is not the ‘time to get on with our lives,’” Sen. Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement. “The executive branch has acted, but it is imperative the legislative branch now pick up the ball and move it forward. Congressional sanctions can complement and strengthen these new executive sanctions.”
The Maryland senator vowed to introduce bills next month to create an independent commission to investigate Russian meddling in the election and hit the country with “comprehensive enhanced sanctions.” Other Democrats are also pushing legislation to codify the Obama-era sanctions.
A Senate Democratic aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said it will be telling whether Republicans get on board with such measures. “It remains to be seen whether these guys are all talk and no action,” said the aide, who noted that “this is the Republican Party that in 2012 called Russia the No. 1 geopolitical foe for the United States in the world.”