Should Russia be sanctioned and punished further if they attempt to interfere in U.S. elections?
Russia will likely attempt to interfere with November’s midterm elections, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo both warn.
Despite President Trump’s wavering and incoherence, the CIA, FBI, and NSA all agree that Russia attempted to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.
Yet in a July press conference, Trump appeared to accept Vladimir Putin’s denials of election interference, over the unanimous findings of interference by U.S. intelligence agencies.
What the bill does
It would require the director of national intelligence to determine within 30 days after any federal election whether a foreign government had interfered. That’s any foreign government, not just Russia, although it’s very clear which country is top of mind.
The bill gives several specific definitions that constitute “interference,” including:
- Obtaining election or campaign “infrastructure,” like Russia did with Democratic National Committee private documents in 2016.
- Advertising for a campaign or candidate, as Russia was able to purchase on Facebook in violation of federal law.
- Utilizing social media to spread knowingly false information, such as the infamous viral false headline that Pope Francis had endorsed Trump.
Although the bill applies to any foreign country, it also specifies several specific sanctions to be implemented on Russia if they interfere. They include sanctions on Russian state-owned banks, oil and gas companies, air carriers, and defense companies.
Though introduced in January, the legislation gained new life — and cosponsors — after July’s joint press conference in which Trump appeared to accept Vladimir Putin’s denials of election interference, over the unanimous findings of interference by U.S. intelligence agencies.
What supporters say
Supporters argue the legislation would stiffen American punishment against foreign powers attempting to mess with what should be a self-contained election process.
“Russian efforts to undermine U.S. leadership and interests know no boundaries, including at home,” Rep. Ros-Lehtinen said in a press release. “As our Intelligence Community has repeatedly confirmed, Russia blatantly meddled in our 2016 elections, as well as previous elections, in an attempt to erode public trust in our electoral process and undermine our democratic institutions.”
“It will undoubtedly do so again,” Ros-Lehtinen continued. “With this bill, we can help deter future attacks by ensuring Putin is clear on the heavy price that will be paid, including debilitating sanctions on key Russian economic sectors.”
What opponents say
Opponents counter that the legislation would hamstring the executive branch’s ability to conduct foreign affairs.
“It encroaches on the executive branch’s authority to negotiate. Congress could not even negotiate a healthcare bill after seven years of talking. By limiting the Executive’s flexibility, this bill makes it harder for the United States to strike good deals for the American people,” Trump said last year regarding a similar Russia sanctions bill.
“The Framers of our Constitution put foreign affairs in the hands of the President. This bill will prove the wisdom of that choice.”
Odds of passage
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said “there’s a possibility”the Senate could take up the bill. Though he didn’t explicitly endorse the legislation yet, he also refused to kill it in its crib as McConnell has with other legislation. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) went further, specifically endorsing the bill.
The Senate version has 11 bipartisan cosponsors: six Republicans and five Democrats. 10 of the 11 cosponsors joined after Trump’s press conference comments. It awaits a potential vote in either the Foreign Affairs or Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committees.
The House version has 22 bipartisan cosponsors: 16 Democrats and six Republicans. Four of the 22 cosponsors joined after Trump’s press conference comments. It awaits a potential vote in either the House Financial Services, Foreign Affairs, Judiciary, or Intelligence Committees.
There’s also the possibility that even the legislation passes Congress, the Trump Administration could refuse to endorse it — as they declined to do in January with similar Russia sanctions passed by Congress.