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Congress worries about Russian aggression against Ukraine ‘missed opportunity’

It was not for lack of trying that the House and Senate left out stiff penalties for a Russian invasion of Ukraine. Partisan wrangling over the annual defense bill left little time for congressional negotiators to complete the legislation before the end of the year.

The Senate was set to vote last week on two amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act that would have imposed severe sanctions on Russia – one proposed by Menendez that would effectively cripple the Russian economy if Putin moved to Ukraine, and the other by his GOP counterpart. committee member Senator Jim Risch of Idaho, who allegedly sanctioned the gas pipeline from Germany to Russia, known as the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

But some Senate Republicans opposed the final list of amendments that were to receive a vote in the Senate, forcing Democratic leaders to abandon the traditional process and rely on the House and Senate armed services committees to craft a consensual bill. This meant that proposals like Risch and Menendez, who never received a vote in either chamber, were left on the cutting room floor.

“I don’t know what they had to do to move the NDAA forward,” Risch said in a brief interview. “It would have been nice to have that in there.”

The Menendez plan would have imposed “the mother of all sanctions … unlike anything we’ve seen before,” the New Jersey Democrat said at a Foreign Relations Committee hearing later Tuesday.

And Risch’s amendment – which was included in the package proposed by Senate leaders last week – would have given Congress the power to overturn the administration of sanctions for Nord Stream 2. Democrats initially blocked a vote on the Risch Amendment, which sparked allegations from Republicans that they fear a politically uncomfortable vote; Senate leaders eventually included it in the final package of amendments, but Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) Did not allow votes to move forward on a dispute over a separate amendment to suppress China.

“The Republicans had a lot of amendments that they could have had, but because they didn’t get them all, we end up with none,” Menendez said. “And trying to fit it in as something that wasn’t in either of the original two bills was a challenge we weren’t able to meet.”

Frustrated Senator Jeanne Shaheen (DN.H.), who is banned from Russia for her hawkish attitude towards Moscow, said “we would have had a chance” to prescribe specific sanctions for a Russian invasion of Ukraine, but that Republicans “took a stand that if they don’t get their way on the NDAA, they’re going to hold it back for everything.”

Shaheen, alongside Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), led efforts to increase funding for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative. The NDAA compromise unveiled Tuesday authorizes $ 300 million for the fund, $ 50 million more than what Biden requested, including $ 75 million for lethal aid.

This provision alone sends a strong message about the United States’ commitment to Ukraine’s security, said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).

“I don’t think there is any doubt that if Russia invades there will be devastating sanctions backed by Republicans and Democrats,” Murphy said. “I don’t know how necessary it was for us to do this in the NDAA, given how certain it is that these sanctions would be forthcoming if an invasion occurs.”

Earlier Tuesday, Biden and Putin spoke via secure video call for two hours while the United States and its European allies fear that Putin is positioning Russian troops for a possible invasion of Ukraine. During the call, according to a White House reading, Biden warned Putin that “the United States and our allies will respond with strong economic and other measures in the event of a military escalation.”

At a press briefing after the call, Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan declined to elaborate on the types of economic sanctions Biden detailed on Putin, but said they would be tougher than those imposed after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

“I’m going to look you in the eye and tell you, as President Biden looked President Putin in the eye and told him today, things that we didn’t do in 2014, we are ready to do it now, ”Sullivan said.

Republicans see this as empty rhetoric. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said Putin felt emboldened by Biden’s decision to lift sanctions on Nord Stream 2. Cruz held back Biden’s foreign policy candidates over the administration’s stance on the pipeline project, which is effectively completed and, the United States believes it will be a massive financial windfall for Putin.

“This calamitous foreign policy disaster is Joe Biden’s fault,” Cruz said of Russia’s military build-up. “This is the direct consequence of the surrender of Joe Biden to Vladimir Putin on Nord Stream 2.”

Connor O’Brien contributed to this report.


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