What Congress Can Do About Russia

Lawmakers weigh everything from sanctions to aid in response to Ukraine invasion.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends on May 8, 2012 a State Duma meeting in Moscow. Russia's lower house of parliament on May 8 overwhelmingly confirmed former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev as prime minister after he was nominated by Putin.  
National Journal
Elahe Izad
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Elahe Izad
March 3, 2014, 7:40 a.m.

As the crisis in Ukraine con­tin­ues to es­cal­ate and U.S. of­fi­cials is­sue sharp words for Rus­si­an Pres­id­ent Vladi­mir Putin, some mem­bers of Con­gress are lay­ing down mark­ers for what they want to do next. Here’s a roundup of what they’re say­ing:

New Eco­nom­ic Sanc­tions

Con­gress has long been a fan of passing eco­nom­ic sanc­tions as a way to in­flu­ence U.S. for­eign policy. Sen­at­ors, such as Con­necti­c­ut Demo­crat Chris Murphy and the top Re­pub­lic­an on the Sen­ate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee, Bob Cork­er, are call­ing for just that. “The United States and our European al­lies should im­me­di­ately bring to bear all ele­ments of our col­lect­ive eco­nom­ic strength to stop Rus­si­an ad­vances in Ukraine,” Cork­er said in a state­ment. “Con­gress will con­sider tar­geted sanc­tions against Rus­si­an per­sons and en­tit­ies that un­der­mine the sov­er­eignty and ter­rit­ori­al in­teg­rity of Ukraine.”

Un­like a pro­posed set of sanc­tions against Ir­an, which has re­ceived a lot of push­back from the White House, the ad­min­is­tra­tion hasn’t is­sued any veto threats or harsh words to Con­gress, ur­ging it not to pass sanc­tions against Rus­sia. Seni­or of­fi­cials told The Wall Street Journ­al that the ad­min­is­tra­tion has be­gun dis­cus­sions with Con­gress about po­ten­tial eco­nom­ic and fin­an­cial sanc­tions on spe­cif­ic Rus­si­an com­pan­ies and lead­ers.

Ex­pand­ing the “Mag­nit­sky List”

The new tar­geted sanc­tions that some want could also come in the form of ex­pand­ing a round of sanc­tions already in place. The Mag­nit­sky Act bans U.S. travel and freezes Amer­ic­an bank ac­counts of cer­tain Rus­si­an hu­man-rights vi­ol­at­ors.

Sen. Marco Ru­bio, R-Fla., wants the ad­min­is­tra­tion to add more Rus­si­an of­fi­cials to the Mag­nit­sky list. It’s something that Sen. John Mc­Cain also backs.

“Liv­ing in Miami, I have seen in re­cent years the wave of Rus­si­an tour­ists com­ing to our city and state to spend money and buy prop­erty,” Ru­bio said in a Politico Magazine op-ed. “Many are gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials or al­lies whose wealth stems from al­le­gi­ance to Putin, and we should lim­it their abil­ity to travel here.”

Some top-rank­ing mem­bers pushed the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion to add ad­di­tion­al names earli­er this year. The ini­tial 2012 pas­sage of Mag­nit­sky spurred a blow­back from Rus­sia in the form of a ban on Amer­ic­ans ad­opt­ing Rus­si­an chil­dren.

In­ter­na­tion­al Ob­serv­ers

Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Chair­man Carl Lev­in said that one of the first steps the U.S. and al­lies could take is to “place a sig­ni­fic­ant num­ber of in­ter­na­tion­al ob­serv­ers on the ground in Ukraine, if re­ques­ted by the Ukrain­i­an gov­ern­ment.”

“The pres­ence of in­ter­na­tion­al ob­serv­ers on the ground could re­duce the risk that Rus­sia would make a false claim of pro­voc­at­ive acts by Ukraine as an ex­cuse for fur­ther vi­ol­a­tion of Ukrain­i­an sov­er­eignty, and thereby help avoid a con­flict that nobody should want,” the Michigan Demo­crat said in a state­ment.

Aid to Ukraine

Many Re­pub­lic­ans and Demo­crats want to see more aid go­ing to Ukraine right now. The top Demo­crat on the House For­eign Af­fairs Com­mit­tee, Eli­ot En­gel, is push­ing for “a ro­bust in­ter­na­tion­al eco­nom­ic as­sist­ance pack­age and the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pro­pos­al to provide U.S. loan guar­an­tees and oth­er as­sist­ance to Ukraine.”

Mem­bers of the Sen­ate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee also en­dorsed loan guar­an­tees to Ukraine. Sec­ret­ary of State John Kerry has already pledged that the U.S. will provide $1 bil­lion in such loan guar­an­tees, which could come with even more aid after con­sulta­tion with Con­gress.

Don’t Re­spond Mil­it­ar­ily

Un­like in re­cent crises, such as in Syr­ia, no mem­bers are call­ing for the U.S. to use mil­it­ary force in the Rus­sia-Ukraine con­flict.

“We do not seek con­front­a­tion with Pres­id­ent Putin and his gov­ern­ment, but simply [want] to en­sure that Rus­sia abides by its com­mit­ments and ad­heres to core prin­ciples of in­ter­na­tion­al law,” a bi­par­tis­an group of sen­at­ors who sit on the For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee wrote in a let­ter to Obama.

Even hawk­ish Mc­Cain em­phas­ized, “There is a range of ser­i­ous op­tions at our dis­pos­al at this time without the use of mil­it­ary force.”

What We're Following See More »
IBD/TIPP Poll Shows a Dead Heat
1 hours ago

A new Investor’s Business Daily/TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence poll shows Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump each earning 41% support. On the one hand, the poll has been skewing in Trump's favor this year, relative to other polls. But on the other, data guru Nate Silver called the IBD/TIPP poll the most accurate in 2012.

Come January Sanders Could Oppose Clinton from the Left
3 hours ago

"Sen. Bernie Sanders, a loyal soldier for Hillary Clinton since he conceded the Democratic presidential nomination in July, plans to push liberal legislation with like-minded senators with or without Clinton’s support if she is elected— and to aggressively oppose appointments that do not pass muster with the party’s left wing." Sanders and other similarly inclined senators are already "plotting legislation" on climate change, prison reform, the minimum wage, and tuition-free college.

McAuliffe Donated to FBI Official’s Wife
3 hours ago

"The political organization of Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, an influential Democrat with longstanding ties to Bill and Hillary Clinton, gave nearly $500,000 to the election campaign of the wife of an official at the Federal Bureau of Investigation who later helped oversee the investigation into Mrs. Clinton’s email use."

Curt Schilling to Launch Breitbart Radio Show
4 hours ago

Baseball great Curt Schilling says he still needs to clear a challenge to Sen. Elizabeth Warren with his wife, but in the meantime, he's found something to occupy him: the former hurler is going to host a daily online radio show on Breitbart.com. "The show marks Schilling’s return to media six months after ESPN fired him for sharing an anti-transgender Facebook post."

The New Yorker Endorses Clinton
5 hours ago

The New Yorker has endorsed Hillary Clinton, saying that "barring some astonishment," she will become the next president. Calling Clinton "distinctly capable," the magazine excoriates Donald Trump as a candidate who "favors conspiracy theory and fantasy, deriving his knowledge from the darker recesses of the Internet and 'the shows.'" Additionally, the historical nature of the possibility of "send[ing] a woman to the White House" is not lost on the editors, who note the possibility more than once in the endorsement.


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.