US senators push sanctions to send Putin message on election interference

Republican US Senators Marco Rubio (left) and Lindsey Graham in this combination photo from US Senate hearings on Capitol Hill in Washington, US on March 14, 2018 and on June 18, 2018 respectively.
Republican US Senators Marco Rubio (left) and Lindsey Graham in this combination photo from US Senate hearings on Capitol Hill in Washington, US on March 14, 2018 and on June 18, 2018 respectively. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - A pair of prominent Republican US senators said on Sunday (July 22) that the United States needs to prepare new sanctions against Russia to discourage interference in upcoming elections.

Senator Lindsey Graham said additional sanctions must be teed up before President Donald Trump holds a second meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin after the US leader came under heavy criticism for failing to confront Putin about interference in the 2016 election at a summit last Monday (July 16).

"You need to work with Congress to come up with new sanctions because Putin's not getting the message," Graham said on CBS's Face the Nation. "We need new sanctions, heavy-handed sanctions, hanging over his head, and then meet with him."

Undaunted by the backlash in his own party to his first meeting, Trump invited Putin to a White House meeting sometime this fall. Congressional midterm elections will take place in November.

Senator Marco Rubio wants a vote on a bill called Deter that would impose new sanctions if US intelligence officials determine Russia meddled in US elections. Rubio co-authored the legislation with Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen, a bipartisan effort revived by the fallout of last week's summit.

"What I think is indisputable is that they did interfere and they will do so in the future," Rubio said on CNN's State of the Union. "If our bill passes and the director of national intelligence says they interfered in 2018, these very tough sanctions will hit them. So Putin knows going in, what the price of doing so is."

Putin has denied that Russia tried to influence the 2016 presidential election after the US intelligence community concluded Russia interfered through cyber attacks and social media in a bid to boost Trump's candidacy.

Under pressure from Congress, which last year passed a tough sanctions law targeting Russia, the US Treasury in April imposed sanctions on Russian officials and oligarchs for election meddling and "malign" activities.

The Deter Act would make sanctions more automatic. The US director of national intelligence would be required to conclude if any foreign nations interfered in elections one month after Americans cast their votes, triggering strict sanctions within 10 days if interference was detected.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell last week identified the bill as a potential step Congress could take in the coming days to push back against Russia as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called for sanctions and other deterrents.

But the US oil and gas industry is lobbying against the bill due to worries that heightened sanctions could impact US investments in Russia, congressional sources said.