May 13, 2024 - Politics & Policy

U.S. lawmakers threaten sanctions over Georgia’s “foreign agents” bill

Reps. Michael McCaul, wearing a light blue suit, and Greg Meeks, wearing a dark blue suit, sitting at a marble committee dais in front of a wood-paneled wall.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Michael McCaul and Ranking Member Greg Meeks. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images.

A bipartisan group of House members is warning that Congress could pass sanctions on Georgia if the former Soviet republic moves forward with its controversial "foreign agents" bill.

Why it matters: The legislation has touched off mass protests in the country's capital, Tiblisi, with demonstrators decrying it as an infringement on free speech rights.

  • The bill, pushed by the governing Georgian Dream party, would require NGOs and media outlets that derive more than 20 percent of their funding from international sources register as "agents of foreign influence."
  • The bill, which closely mirrors a Russian law used to stifle opposition, has raised questions about the country's European Union candidacy.

Driving the news: House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Michael McCaul (R-Ky.) and Ranking Member Greg Meeks (D-N.Y.) led a letter to Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze voicing "grave concern" about the bill.

  • The letter was signed by 13 Democrats and 16 Republicans – an unusually bipartisan initiative in an often divided Congress.
  • "This bill is fundamentally at odds with your government's professed desire to further integrate into the transatlantic community," the lawmakers wrote to Kobakhidze.
  • They warned that the law "only enables Russia's malign influence to expand in Georgia."

Zoom in: The effort to combat Georgia's slide into Russia's orbit runs parallel to U.S. support for Ukraine amid its efforts to repel an ongoing Russian invasion. Georgia faced a Russian attack in 2008.

  • In the letter, the lawmakers took aim at anti-U.S. statements by former Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, the honorary chairman of Georgian Dream and a major power broker in the country.

What to watch: The lawmakers warned that, if the bill is not withdrawn, they "would join our colleagues in the Senate in encouraging fundamental changes in U.S. policy toward Georgia."

  • That could include "reconsideration" of U.S. financial aid to Georgia, visa bans, and financial sanctions against Georgian officials, they said.
  • Kobakhidze's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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