The Senate overwhelmingly approved a resolution on Thursday stating that the United States should refuse to make any current or former official available for questioning by Vladimir Putin’s government.
The 98-0 vote amounts to a bipartisan slap at President Donald Trump, whose White House on Thursday reversed its previous openness to giving Moscow access to former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul and other longtime Putin critics.
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But beyond the lopsided vote to pass the symbolic resolution, proposed earlier in the day by Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), it remained unclear if the Senate would move ahead on any substantive action in response to President Donald Trump’s widely criticized appearance with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said after a meeting with Banking Chairman Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) that he had asked their two committees to hold hearings on the implementation of last year’s bipartisan Russia sanctions bill “and to recommend to the Senate additional measures that could respond to or deter Russian malign behavior.”
Routing the matter through those committees, however, promises to slow down action on any potential legislation ratcheting up pressure on Moscow after Trump’s friendly overtures to Putin this week. The move also could sap momentum for a bipartisan Russia sanctions bill from Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) that some of their colleagues worry could unduly impact U.S. and European businesses.
Schumer, for his part, focused on lining up bipartisan opposition to Trump’s consideration of a Putin offer that would allow his government to question McFaul and potentially others, including anti-Kremlin U.S. investor Bill Browder.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday that Trump would consider giving Russia access to McFaul and Browder in exchange for U.S. access to Russian nationals indicted for hacking the 2016 election. She later pulled away from the offer, made by Putin after he and Trump met Monday in Helsinki, saying Thursday it “was made in sincerity by President Putin, but President Trump disagrees with it.”
Even after that walkback, Trump’s third straight since his controversial meeting with Putin, senators in both parties consciously pressed ahead with their vote on Schumer’s resolution.
“This is one of those instances where having Congress speak is a good thing,” Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) told reporters. “It’s good that it’s redundant to the decision the president’s already taken, but I think it’s still worthwhile.”
Schumer announced his proposal urging bipartisan cooperation: “This body must agree on the importance of protecting our ambassadors,” he said on the floor. Two senators were absent for the vote: John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Richard Shelby (R-Ala.).
Another symbolic resolution offered Thursday, from Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.), would have put the Senate on record supporting U.S. intelligence agencies that have documented Russian efforts to sabotage the 2016 election and hailing the Justice Department for the work that led to special counsel Robert Mueller’s team indicting 12 Russian intelligence officers for cyber-meddling last week.
Trump has repeatedly sought to discredit Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election as a “witch hunt.”
The duo sought unanimous consent to pass their proposal on Thursday, but Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) objected for his side of the aisle.
The Flake-Coons measure is “purely a symbolic act,” Cornyn said. “And what we need to do is not just offer symbolic resolutions on the floor; we need to do the hard work” of acting within Senate committees.