WASHINGTON — Republicans in Congress on Thursday blocked a series of measures put forward by lawmakers — largely Democratic — desperate to isolate Republican leaders and publicly rebuke President Trump over his summit meeting with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia this week.
In the Senate, Republicans objected to two nonbinding measures that would have put the body on record as being in support of intelligence agency conclusions that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, called on Mr. Trump to fully impose sanctions against Russia and pressed for oversight of the summit meeting, including the production of any notes taken by Americans.
“If ever there was a moment to think not of just your party but for the country, this is it,” Senator Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, implored his colleagues before his bipartisan resolution was shot down.
Sen. Flake on Helsinki: "If ever there was a moment to think not of just your party but for the country, this is it...This is not a moment for spin, deflection, justification, circling the wagons, forgetting, moving on to the next news cycle, or for more of Orwell's doublespeak." pic.twitter.com/yAFlJoEDJu— ABC News (@ABC) July 19, 2018
After the White House press secretary said that Mr. Trump was not considering a Putin proposal to make a former American ambassador available to the Russian authorities for questioning, senators voted 98 to 0 in favor of a third nonbinding resolution expressing opposition to the Russian leader’s suggestion.
“With this vote, the Senate has sent a message that is free from all ambiguity: Americans will not be handed over to Putin on our watch,” said Senator Brian Schatz, Democrat of Hawaii. “Those who serve our nation do not answer to the Russian president, and they have the support of a thankful nation.”
In the House, Democrats sought to push many of the same points with different tactics, but saw no more success. Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee voted down a request to subpoena testimony from the State Department interpreter who accompanied Mr. Trump into his private meeting with Mr. Putin in Helsinki, Finland. And on the House floor, Republicans blocked a Democratic effort to add hundreds of millions of dollars in grant funding for election security to a spending bill.
“The flashing red light calls us to action,” said Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 House Democrat. “Surely we can rise above pandering to party and Putin to act on behalf of our freedom and our security.”
Mr. Hoyer’s remarks stirred Democrats to chants of “U.S.A.” on the House floor.
The flurry of votes came as lawmakers in both parties continued to cast about for appropriate responses to the fallout from the Finland meeting.
Standing next to Mr. Putin on Monday, Mr. Trump signaled that he took the Russian president’s word over his own intelligence agencies that Russia did not meddle in the 2016 election.
On Tuesday, Mr. Trump said he misspoke and that he did believe the intelligence agencies. And then on Wednesday, he further confused lawmakers when he seemed to say the Russians were no longer targeting American elections, then backtracked again.
Republicans, many of whom are outraged by Mr. Trump’s undercutting of the intelligence agencies, have indicated that they may prefer to address the situation with more sanctions, rather than potentially embarrassing oversight exercises or measures of censure. They announced steps in that direction on Thursday.
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, said that he had asked the chairmen of two important committees to hold oversight hearings on Russian sanctions passed into law last year and begin discussions on the potential for new measures to supplement them.
It was far from clear if senators could reach an agreement on such a measure in time to deter malfeasance before November’s election. The most popular bipartisan sanctions proposal — written by Senators Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, and Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland — is thought to need rewriting to avoid unintended consequences, though it gained the support of four Democrats and four Republicans on Thursday.
But in publicizing his request in a statement, Mr. McConnell clearly intended to send a message that the Republican Congress takes the issue seriously and stands prepared to act.
The first two resolutions considered on the Senate floor were offered by unanimous consent. That parliamentary technique allows senators to avoid debate and a roll-call vote, but also empowers a single senator to object and kill the measure.
A bipartisan resolution to commend the Justice Department and reaffirm the Senate’s support for the intelligence community’s findings was blocked when Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, objected.
Mr. Cornyn’s move caught the sponsors of the resolution — Senators Flake and Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware — off guard. It came after Mr. Flake, an outspoken critic of Mr. Trump, delivered an impassioned speech on the Senate floor accusing the president of “giving aid and comfort” to Mr. Putin.
“By choosing to reject object reality in Helsinki, the president let down the free world by giving aid and comfort to an enemy of democracy,” Mr. Flake said. “In so doing he dimmed the light on freedom ever so slightly in our own country.”
Mr. Cornyn said he favored considering new sanctions, “not sort of sense of the Senate resolutions that have no sting or no impact.” Among his other objections was that the measure was largely symbolic — a remark that brought protests from Mr. Flake and Mr. Coons when they greeted reporters afterward.
The chagrined pair said they intended to introduce the measure again next week. Mr. Flake said symbolism was precisely the point.
“This simply says, in a symbolic way, that we in the Senate don’t buy Vladimir Putin’s rejection or his denial of election interference,” Mr. Flake said. “We here in the Senate should stand and say we don’t believe it. We know the intelligence is right. We stand behind our intelligence community. We need to say that in the Senate. Yes, it’s symbolic, and symbolism is important.”
A Republican also blocked a more expansive resolution introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont, that would have made it the position of the Senate that Mr. Trump must work with American allies to aggressively combat Russian aggression, warn Mr. Putin not to interfere in November’s elections and cooperate with the special counsel’s investigation.
“Nobody is excusing Russia’s meddling in our elections,” said Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, who objected to the request. “But simply bringing the hatred of the president to the Senate floor in order to say we’re done with diplomacy, we are going to add more sanctions and more sanctions. You know what? I would rather that we still have open channels of discussion with the Russians.”
The third resolution, offered by several Democrats, was meant to address the possibility of the United States allowing Russia to question American citizens that it says were involved in an illegal scheme with William F. Browder, a financier and critic of Mr. Putin, in exchange for allowing American authorities to question Russian intelligence officers indicted on a charge of cyberattacks. One of those citizens is Michael A. McFaul, an ambassador to Russia under President Barack Obama.
The resolution said that “the United States should refuse to make available any current or former diplomat, civil servant, political appointee, law enforcement official or member of the armed forces of the United States for questioning by the government of Vladimir Putin.”
The efforts in the House infuriated Democrats, who pleaded with Republicans in the majority before quickly pivoting to turn their vote against the funding into a political asset.
Still, the Democrats there continued to press their case. A few hours later, Mr. Hoyer introduced an omnibus legislative package of more than a dozen bills — some of which are bipartisan — to fight against Russia on several fronts.
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