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Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

17 senators, including the top Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Intelligence and Foreign Relations committees, are calling on President Biden to expel 300 Russian diplomats if Moscow does not issue more diplomatic visas to make up for its ban on the U.S. Embassy hiring local Russian staff.

Why it matters: It would be the largest expulsion of Russian diplomats in U.S. history and would mark a major escalation in tensions between the two countries.

The big picture: President Biden imposed sweeping sanctions on Russia and expelled 10 Russian diplomats in April, following an extensive review of the Kremlin's "reckless and adversarial actions." These include the massive SolarWinds hack of federal agencies and interference in the 2020 election.

  • The Kremlin retaliated by restricting the U.S. Embassy in Moscow from hiring Russian or third-country staff, forcing it to lay off nearly 200 local employees beginning on Aug. 1.
  • The U.S. Embassy is now functioning with just 120 employees, making it difficult for the Americans to carry out consular services and other diplomatic work in Russia.
  • Russia has long counted local embassy staff as "American diplomats."

The senators who signed the letter include: Senate Intelligence chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.), vice chairman Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Foreign Relations chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), ranking member Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Angus King (I-Maine), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.)

What they're saying: "This disproportionality in diplomatic representation is unacceptable," the senators wrote in a letter to Biden on Monday.

  • "Accordingly, Russia must issue enough visas to approach parity between the number of American diplomats serving in Russia and the number of Russian diplomats serving in the United States."
  • "If such action is not taken, we urge you to begin expelling Russian diplomats, to bring the U.S. diplomatic presence to parity. We believe such a step would be reasonable and reciprocal."

Go deeper

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Oct 8, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Natural gas markets weigh Putin's plans

Expand chart
Data: FactSet; Note: Shows Dutch TTF Gas Monthly Index; Chart: Axios Visuals

Sky-high European natural gas prices are volatile this morning after yesterday's retreat (see chart above) that followed Russian President Vladimir Putin's comments that seemingly signaled more supply in the offing.

What we're watching: What follows the statements about supply from Putin and other Russian officials, in terms of gas via existing infrastructure and the timing of final approval of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Biden's carbon emissions-cutting pledge faces tough climb

Image from the Rhodium Group study "Pathways to Paris." Courtesy of the Rhodium Group.

The verdict is in: President Biden's U.S. emissions-cutting pledge isn't a fantasy, but the path to meeting it is very difficult and relies on forces outside of White House control.

Driving the news: The Rhodium Group just released an analysis of policy combinations that could close the gap between the current U.S. trajectory and Biden's vow under the Paris Agreement to cut emissions in half by 2030.

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
Updated 1 hour ago - Economy & Business

Johnson & Johnson pulls the trigger on Texas talc gambit

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

It's official: Johnson & Johnson has invoked a Texas legal loophole in an attempt to protect the bulk of its corporate assets from claims that its baby powder caused ovarian cancer and mesothelioma.

Why it matters: It's the biggest and boldest invocation yet of the so-called Texas two-step defense. But it's still not clear whether it's going to work.