The Senate unanimously passed a symbolic measure Thursday aimed at dissuading President Donald Trump from accepting a deal proposed by Russian President Vladimir Putin to turn over US officials for questioning by Russian investigators.
Senators voted 98–0 on the resolution expressing that “it is the sense of Congress 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 resolution, which is nonbinding, was put forth by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and other Democrats.
The Senate’s symbolic rebuke of Trump comes in the wake of his statements at a press conference with Putin in Helsinki on Monday, which caused an uproar among even his staunchest allies, who took exception to the president’s questioning of the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia interfered in the last election.
The resolution came in response to Trump’s expressed willingness at the press conference to consider the deal proposed by Putin, who US intelligence agencies say ordered cyberattacks against the United States as part of a campaign to interfere in the 2016 election.
Putin suggested during the press conference that investigators from special counsel Robert Mueller’s team could question the 12 Russian intelligence officers the US indicted last week for the cyberattacks. In return, he said, the US should allow the Russians to interview former US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, who has heavily criticized Russia’s human rights record, and American-born financier Bill Browder, among others. The Russians claim that Browder, a vocal critic of Putin, is guilty of financial crimes.
At the time, Trump called Putin’s proposed deal “incredible,” prompting outrage from Democrats and Republicans alike.
“That President Trump would even consider handing over a former U.S. Ambassador to Putin and his cronies for interrogation is bewildering,” Schumer said in a statement Thursday before the vote. “No president should have the power to gift wrap American citizens, let alone former ambassadors, to our known adversaries. If the president ever agreed to such a request, Congress must do everything in its power to block it.”
The White House eventually reversed course, after saying earlier in the week that the president was weighing Putin’s offer. On Thursday, before the Senate voted, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders issued a statement saying the proposal “was made in sincerity by President Putin” but that Trump “disagrees with it.”
“Hopefully President Putin will have the 12 identified Russians come to the United States to prove their innocence or guilt,” Sanders added.
The resolution comes at the end of a week riddled with walkbacks and confusion from the president about his position regarding the Russians and his two-hour private meeting with Putin, a former KGB officer.
Earlier Thursday, the Senate failed to pass a much broader, though still symbolic, measure proposed by Democratic Sen. Chris Coons and Republican Sen. Jeff Flake. That resolution would have expressed the Senate’s support for the Department of Justice’s investigation into Russian meddling, the full implementation of previously passed Russian sanctions, and more.
Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the number-two Senate Republican, objected to passing that resolution, claiming that the president had cleared up any confusion about his views on Russia. He called instead for congressional committees to examine the issue of the Kremlin’s interference in 2016 and potentially suggest additional sanctions.