Feb 23, 2022 - World

How Congress is reacting to Biden’s new Russia sanctions

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is seen fist-bumping with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi first bumps with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz over the weekend in Munich. Photo: Sven Hoppe/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Written statements supplanted hallway interviews on Tuesday, as members of Congress reacted to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine while scattered across the country and around the world.

Why it matters: The Senate began its recess last week without taking action on a package of proposed Russian sanctions. Now, the House and Senate are effectively consigned to watching and waiting for the next steps taken by Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Biden.

  • National Security Council staff briefed congressional leadership and relevant committee staff on the sanctions Biden announced during a White House speech Tuesday, a person familiar with the briefing told Axios.
  • Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has requested an all-senators briefing at some point, a spokesperson for Schumer says.

What they're saying: Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.) — upon return from a trip to London and the Munich Security Conference — called the sanctions "a good step."

  • He added, "We must be prepared to impose additional costs on Putin if he carries through on his threats to further invade Ukraine."
  • On Monday night, two key Senate Foreign Relations Committee members — Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) — called for the U.S. to impose "crushing sanctions" and "significant costs" on Russia, respectively.
  • Their comments came shortly after a Biden administration official had touched off a controversy by telling reporters, "Russian troops moving into Donbas would not be a new step." Biden and his aides reversed course Tuesday.

The other side: Republican House leaders, some on a CODEL in Israel, reacted to the latest developments with a statement.

  • They called for Congress to "compel President Biden to take the tough steps his administration has opposed thus far."
  • Their statement added: "We must permanently end Nord Stream 2, implement secondary sanctions on Russian financial institutions, and impose crippling penalties on the industries which the Russian military relies on to make war," they said, accusing Biden of "appeasement."
  • Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, speaking during an event in his home state of Kentucky, called for similar measures, accusing Biden of inviting the Russian aggression by showing "weakness" with his chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a statement Monday after her congressional delegation met with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. She addressed the unfolding situation in Ukraine during an appearance over the weekend at the Munich Security Conference.
  • “As was clear throughout the entirety of our travels: if Putin’s goal was to divide allied nations, he only served to unite and strengthen the NATO alliance," Pelosi said in another statement wrapping up her trip.

One of the Senate's biggest skeptics of sanctions, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), has even come around to the idea following Russia's recent provocations.

  • "There has always been a diplomatic solution to this situation. Tragically, Putin appears intent on rejecting it," Sanders said in a statement Tuesday.
  • "The United States must now work with our allies and the international community to impose serious sanctions on Putin and his oligarchs, including denying them access to the billions of dollars that they have stashed in European and American banks."
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