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Senators target Russia with massive bipartisan bill

Posted at 4:52 PM, Feb 13, 2019

A bipartisan group of senators, frustrated by what they see as the Trump administration's failure to adequately punish Russia for its broad spectrum of bad behavior -- are taking matters into their own hands.

They've proposed a massive bill that aims to, among other things, force the administration to assess whether Russia is a state sponsor of terror.

It would also require a two-thirds Senate vote if Trump decides to leave NATO, a report on Russian President Vladimir Putin's net worth and assets, and title insurance companies in the US to report information on who owns entities that buy high-priced homes here -- as well as would hammer Russia with a host of additional sanctions and new ways of cracking down on Russian disinformation and cyber-crimes.

Sen. Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat who's one of the bill's cosponsors, said the legislation is a response to President Donald Trump's "willful paralysis in the face of Kremlin aggression" and seeks to ramp up pressure on Russia through a wide range of punitive measures.

"Putin's actions cannot be tolerated, and the consequences of inaction are quickly compounding," Menendez said in a statement.

"That is why we are introducing a proposal to actually address the realities of the Kremlin threat in a holistic way, all while sending a crystal clear message to our adversaries that the US Congress will protect our institutions, allies and values even if the President chooses not to do so," he added.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina did not mention the President or the administration's policies on Russia in his own statement Wednesday but highlighted the ways the proposed legislation serves as a meaningful rebuke toward Moscow.

"Our goal is to change the status quo and impose meaningful sanctions and measures against Putin's Russia. He should cease and desist meddling in the US electoral process, halt cyberattacks on American infrastructure, remove Russia from Ukraine, and stop efforts to create chaos in Syria," Graham said.

"The sanctions and other measures contained in this bill are the most hard-hitting ever imposed -- and a direct result of Putin's continued desire to undermine American democracy. The sanctions and measures we propose are designed to respond in the strongest possible fashion," he added.

Trump has often claimed that he has been "tougher on Russia" than any of his predecessors and has called the investigation into possible collusion between his campaign and Moscow "a whole big fat hoax."

But the President has been criticized for his open admiration of Putin and for consistently doubting whether Moscow interfered in the 2016 US presidential election despite the assessments from his own intelligence community.

Wednesday's legislative announcement comes a day after the US released a sweeping list of prominent Russian business and political figures , implementing a congressional law designed to punish Russia for election interference.

The US Treasury report, published shortly before a midnight deadline, listed every senior member of the political administration at the Kremlin, and every Russian oligarch with a net worth of $1 billion or more.

Some of those named are already subject to US sanctions. But the administration stopped short of imposing new punishments, saying the legislation was already doing its job. The report was "not a sanctions list," it said.

Instead, the Treasury report resembled an exercise in naming and shaming -- putting individuals on notice that they may be subject to sanctions in the future.