Well that’s a start, senators

"Time for a course correction, captain!" (Don't you love when Putin plays dress-up?)

“One ping only, Vasily!” (Don’t you love when Putin plays dress-up?)

Jennifer Rubin had a column today headlined, “When will Congress take on Trump?” Something I’ve wondered myself. As she puts it:

President Trump provides neither coherent nor conservative leadership on policy. He creates foreign policy fiascoes. He has not resolved his conflicts of interest and still arguably operates in violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause. When, irate Democrats and some Republicans plead, will Congress do something about him?

Well, I’m not saying this is enough by a long shot, but it’s a start. This is from Lindsey Graham:

Bipartisan Group of Senators Introduce Legislation establishing Congressional Oversight of Russia Sanctions Relief

WASHINGTON – A bipartisan group of Senators today introduced legislation, The Russia Sanctions Review Act of 2017, which provides for congressional oversight of any decision to provide sanctions relief to the Government of the Russian Federation.

“Russia has done nothing to be rewarded with sanctions relief,” said Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina).  “To provide relief at this time would send the wrong signal to Russia and our allies who face Russian oppression. Sanctions relief must be earned, not given.”

“If the U.S. were to provide sanctions relief to Russia without verifiable progress on the Minsk Agreements, we would lose all credibility in the eyes of our allies in Europe and around the world,” said Senator Ben Cardin (D-Maryland).  “Since the illegal annexation of Crimea and invasion of Ukraine by Russia in 2014, Congress has led efforts to impose sanctions on Russia.  We have a responsibility to exercise stringent oversight over any policy move that could ease Russia sanctions.”

“The United States should not ease sanctions on Russia until Putin abandons his illegal annexation of Crimea, verifiably and permanently ends Russian aggression in Ukraine, and fully implements the Minsk accords,” said Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida).

“The Ukrainian community in Ohio knows firsthand the dangers of unchecked Russian aggression,” said Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). “Lifting sanctions now would only reward Russia’s attempts to undermine democracy – from Crimea and Eastern Ukraine to our own U.S. election. This commonsense, bipartisan legislation will give Congress – and more importantly, the constituents we answer to – a say in critical national security debates.”

“Easing sanctions on Russia would send the wrong message as Vladimir Putin continues to oppress his citizens, murder his political opponents, invade his neighbors, threaten America’s allies, and attempt to undermine our elections,” said Senator John McCain (R-Arizona). “Congress must have oversight of any decision that would impact our ability to hold Russia accountable for its flagrant violation of international law and attack our institutions.”

“Vladimir Putin is a thug bent on tearing down democracy—and Russia’s meddling in U.S. institutions is a threat to our national security,” said Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri).“Any decision to roll over on sanctions needs to meet a high bar in Congress.”

Before sanctions relief can be granted, The Russia Sanctions Review Act requires the Administration to submit to Congress:

  • A description of the proposed sanctions relief for individuals engaged in significant malicious cyber-enabled activities, those contributing to the situation in Ukraine, and those engaged in certain transactions with respect to Crimea.
  • Certification that the Government of the Russian Federation has ceased—

Ø  ordering, controlling, or otherwise directing, supporting, or financing, significant acts intended to undermine the peace, security, stability, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of Ukraine, including through an agreement between the appropriate parties; and

Ø  cyberattacks against the United States Government and United States persons.

The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives will have 120 days to act — or decline to take action — on any proposed sanctions relief.  During this period, the President may not waive, suspend, reduce, provide relief from, or otherwise limit the application of sanctions with respect to the Russian Federation.  After 120 days, if both the Senate and House have not voted in support of a Joint Resolution of Disapproval, sanctions relief will be granted.


60 thoughts on “Well that’s a start, senators

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    Can anyone think of any parallels to this in U.S. history?

    Think about it. A brand-new president, and prominent members of his own party are joining with the opposition to push legislation based entirely upon their lack of faith in the president in terms of how he might behave toward one of the nation’s greatest adversaries ever….

  2. Doug Ross

    Yeah, it’s not like any of the three Republicans quoted have anything against Trump. Hell hath no fury like a politician scorned (and crushed in an election).

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      That’s an odd observation. Of course they’re people who know better than to be SUPPORTERS of Trump.

      But unlike others who know better — say, Paul Ryan — they have the guts to stand up to him.

      And that makes them praiseworthy, however you might twist it in order to condemn them…

  3. Phillip

    Of course, basically the only area where McCain and Graham (and in this case, Rubio) will really seriously challenge Trump is when he’s not bellicose and threatening enough for their taste, in this case vis-a-vis Russia. Trump can declare war on public education, on the environment, on banking regulations that are designed to prevent another 2008-style meltdown, on voting rights, on an independent judiciary, on a free press, on truth itself…but Lindsey especially will not seemingly get as seriously worked-up about any of THAT. Interesting, isn’t it?

    I have no illusions about Putin or his intentions, and I agree that it’s weird, this cozying up by Trump towards Putin (though I personally think this is all one giant gas/oil deal worked out with Exxon, Tillerson, Putin, Trump, etc) but of Trump’s many flaws, this bromance with Vlad is not the one that is the most direct threat to the citizens of the United States (except insofar as Trump, I think, wants to emulate Putin as a strongman leader, which is of course very dangerous, especially since so many Americans I think would be OK with that style of governance). It is the aspect of Trump, however, that freaks the neocons out the most of course.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      And bless them for that.

      You say, it’s “interesting” that this is where Lindsey and McCain confront Trump, by which I suppose you mean “revealing.”

      But of COURSE that’s the way it is. They would be the first to say so. As for education secretary, do you suppose any GOP member cares who the education secretary is, one way or the other? I would never expect one of them to stick his neck out on that matter, except maybe Lamar Alexander.

      And truth be told, I can barely be brought to pay attention to that myself. Y’all know how I feel about subsidiarity, and education simply is not a core function of the federal government.

      Our dealings with other nations ARE core; they’re a huge part of what the federal government exists for.

      So if I’m a Republican, and I’m looking for ground to stand on against Trump, it’s going to be about Russia, or Mexico, or China, or TPP, or NATO.

      And the most urgent of those, given who Trump is, and who Putin is, is Russia…

      1. Lynn Teague

        No matter how you feel about subsidiarity, our education system is heavily dependent on the federal government. It is especially dependent with respect to help for poor children and children with disabilities. It matters a great deal whether the person in charge in Washington cares enough to make sure the system works. If not, do you really believe South Carolina will pick up the slack? I’m sure you aren’t saying that your support for the concept of subsidiarity is more important than making sure those kids are educated.

        1. Bryan Caskey

          “No matter how you feel about subsidiarity, our education system is heavily dependent on the federal government. It is especially dependent with respect to help for poor children and children with disabilities. It matters a great deal whether the person in charge in Washington cares enough to make sure the system works.”

          That is precisely what I propose be changed. State and local officials should be making sure our education system works. They should be the ones ensuring that the needs of the children are met.

        2. Brad Warthen Post author

          Yes, we have a pragmatic problem. Our Legislature today probably wouldn’t take up the slack (I say “probably” because the House leadership has surprised me on the gas tax — if they’d do that, what else might they do).

          The irony here is that from what I can tell, the Legislature we had back in the 60s and 70s, when some of these programs were instituted, might have done so.

          But now, because these programs are associated with the big, bad federal government, Republicans are likely to treat them as though they carry the plague…

          1. Lynn Teague

            It isn’t just the federal association. It is the growth of the whole anti-government and anti-tax movement. It is also the polarization of politics arising in part from gerrymandering and in part from very low primary election participation. Those are a lot of obstacles to a productive state policy on education and so far the General Assembly has not been very good at overcoming them.

            1. Doug Ross

              Anti-government is a result of the performance of government. Anti-tax is a result of the perception that tax dollars are not spent wisely.

              It’s not a bad thing to be FOR execution, efficiency, and stewardship.

              1. Doug Ross

                For example, when I get a property tax bill that shows X dollars going to the Richland County Recreation Commission, should I just say “Great!” or should I have some anti-tax, anti-government response due to the fact that every single dollar I have paid over 25 years in the county wouldn’t cover the salaries paid the the commissioner’s family members?

                1. Lynn Teague

                  I’m not going to argue in favor of the Richland County Recreation Commission. The way to deal with that is by removing those responsible (at several levels) and ultimately by introducing a more accountable structure. Rejecting government at large isn’t the answer.

                2. Doug Ross

                  And when you can’t remove those people? Then what?

                  I’m anti-waste — if that occurs in government, then I am pro cutting funding. When I don’t get good service and value from a private entity, I have options. I have none in Richland County — other than moving and taking my tax dollars somewhere else.

                3. Brad Warthen Post author

                  “And when you can’t remove those people? Then what?”

                  Well, you certainly don’t go around hating ALL government because of that one problem.

                  And you advocate for change.

                  We did get very local, very specific change on the rec commission, but we need much bigger change than that. We need all 500 or so special purpose districts to go away.

                  But that’s tough, which brings us back to the U.S. Department of Education…

                  The SPDs use the same defense mechanism that defenders of the federal Dept. of Ed. use. Let’s not use the RCDC. Let’s use the Irmo-Chapin Recreation District. If you say let’s do away with that, the defenders might say, “What? You don’t like Saluda Shoals Park?”

                  Well, the thing is, you don’t have to have a separate governmental entity to have Saluda Shoals Park. That could be run by the county.

                  But here things get really tricky, and we really chase our tails…

                  We sort of have the same problem, in a way, handing off running the parks to counties that we have with turning authority over certain educational programs to the states. And the problem, to a great extent, is this:

                  The anti-government sentiment of folks like Doug, and other folks who aren’t exactly like Doug (no one quite like our Doug), but share his unwillingness to see a governmental body take on anything.

                  Folks like that, especially in Lexington County (remember “We the People?”) have elected folks who either think like them or are afraid of people like them.

                  Back in 1975 when we got Home Rule, maybe Lexington County Council would have been eager to build and run something like Saluda Shoals. Now, I wonder if they’d have the will to take on that additional responsibility and budget. Maybe, since it presumably would come with its established revenue stream. But I’m thinking even then, some might be scared of appearing to “grow government.”

                  Maybe not. It’s complicated. It’s got aspects that don’t compare well to other situations.

                  But I’m almost sure South Carolina would not want to take on the burden of running and paying for educational programs currently paid for by the feds. That seems pretty clear.

                  Once, before the rise of generalized anti-government fervor in states such as this one, the problem wouldn’t have existed. Now it does…

                  1. Brad Warthen Post author

                    Now that I’ve written that, I’m not sure it works. Feels like one of the column ideas I used to get, and write about 1,000 words on, and then abandon and start on another topic. The dynamics of the Department of Ed situation and SPDs are sufficiently different that I’m not sure the comparison works — although it seemed like it would when I dove in. Also, Saluda Shoals isn’t the best example of the kind of routine service that a county might easily take on.

                    But I’ll leave it up for now and let y’all take shots at it. Maybe there’s something of value to be salvaged there…

                    1. Brad Warthen Post author

                      And if there is, it’s this: There was a time in living memory when it was easy to get a governmental entity to take on a new challenge. Now, that’s a lot tougher because of the poisonous political environment that has developed over the last three decades or so.

                      Today, it’s hard to imagine a political leader saying “Let’s go to the moon” and then see it get DONE. It’s not that we can’t. Of course we can. As a society, we’ve lost the will.

                      Now, Doug will say that ennui, that unrelenting negativism, is justified, because he seems to think this formula makes sense: “All government is bad, because RCRC.” Well, I don’t think that makes any kind of sense. When you have a problem, address the problem. Don’t say, it’s therefore impossible for us to work together to solve problems, so we shouldn’t try.

                      And that, of course, is what government is in a liberal democracy. It’s civilized people working together to solve issues that they face in common.

                      Once, we all believed in that — or if not ALL of us, we had a working consensus. And therefore, we got things done. Now, not so much…

                4. Doug Ross

                  Not all government is bad. I’ve never said that. But if you start throwing out acronyms, most of them are inefficient and should be cut to the bone. IRS and TSA to start

              2. Scout

                For you I think those reasons to be anti tax and anti government are true. I get the sense though that alot of South Carolinians don’t think that much about it. It’s just become popular to be anti tax without giving it much thought. They want low taxes and they don’t want any increases. Basically they want something for nothing if you follow the lines of their thinking. But I don’t think they have thought about it enough to realize that is what they are saying. It’s just become a mantra. To take Education back from the federal level would require an increase of money from somewhere, since SC gets more from the feds than we pay in. We won’t even take care of our roads – same tax level as 1988, and you think we are going to take care of children? Especially those children? Poor and disabled ones? I’d like to have more faith in my state, but I don’t see the evidence that we will be willing to raise taxes at all but especially for someone else’s children. Alas, I have become cynical.

    2. bud

      I agree with Phillip. Of all the stuff Trump has done this is the one action that bothers me the least. Lifting sanctions on Russia? Meh.

        1. Doug Ross

          It’s not that I don’t care. It’s that we should have higher priorities that focus on the U.S. first. It’s also that I am unconvinced based on past history that our ability to help actually makes things better. We are also very selective on our foreign efforts — not based on need but other less altruistic motivations.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            What “less altruistic motivations” might these be? And are you sure you’re not confusing us with some other country?

            No, wait; I forget! This is the country headed by Donald Trump, who thinks when we went into Iraq (which he was against after he was for), we should have taken their oil. Because Trump can’t imagine any other reason to do so…

            1. Doug Ross

              Oil (and other big business objectives) drives a lot of our military and foreign policy. Then there’s the decision to back Israel for the most part no matter what they do.

              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                Yeah, and that adds up to a coherent analysis because of all that oil that Israel has. No, wait…

                Yes, we have a greater interest in political stability in the Mideast because those countries other than Israel have oil.

                And that helps explain the Gulf War in 1991 — we had a vested interest in restoring the status quo. And why Bush 41 didn’t take out Saddam then — it would have unsettled the region.

                It does not explain the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

                Wars often have an economic cause. You can say WWII was about oil — for Japan, anyway.

                It really gets silly, though, when people say we went into Iraq “for the oil,” and even sillier when people call such actions as that, or the Vietnam War, “imperialism” — as if the United States had the motivation of such plunder-oriented states as ancient Rome or 16th-century Spain or Nazi Germany. Has the United States been totally innocent of imperialism? No — there was “manifest destiny,” and TR wanting to get into the game with the colonial powers of Europe.

                But Vietnam or Iraq? Not seeing it…

                1. Doug Ross

                  Our focus on the Middle East is disproportionate to the number of people affected. That’s because of Israel and oil.

                  Iraq 2003 was about “WMD”s, right? And some disconnected retribution for 9/11 because there was the need to punish SOMEBODY. And oil. And finding something for the military industrial complex to generate profits from….

                  1. Brad Warthen Post author

                    Not for me it wasn’t.

                    But y’all don’t want me to go into all that again. Even if you do, I don’t want to. Because I don’t think I ever obtained a convert any of the other times. I’m pretty sure anyone who would be likely to agree with what I say about Iraq already agreed with me back in 2003.

                    It’s almost like the abortion issue that way. I’ve only had one friend I ever argued with about abortion come to agree with me — and that was because of a traumatic personal experience, not because of anything I said…

  4. Richard

    Remember the Monty Python SPAM skit? Replace the word “spam” with “Trump” and that’s what you have on this blog.

      1. Bryan Caskey

        Ramius made pretty short work of the zampolit in the movie.

        Trivia question: Without googling it, can anyone remember the name of the political officer (zampolit) on the Red October?

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              Dang! How did I forget that!

              But I was right as far as my guess went.

              Obviously, as often as I’ve read that book, I haven’t done it in the last 18 years or so.

              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                Or maybe I have. When I reread books, I often do so selectively. And the good bits in that book, to me, come long after Comrade Putin has had his “accident”…

  5. Harry Harris

    Oh, but 50 Republican Senators will go along with Trump’s installing a new Dept of Education secretary who has little qualifying experience, knowledge, or training. You know, the one who has largely pushed for supporting with public money a dual system like the one that abounds in the third world and existed in most of the South until the early 1970’s. Some who know better are going along anyway. The morale of the educators who work to teach and lead the bulk of our children – including the hardest to educate is about to go through the most difficult period imaginable as resources and many of the best and brightest students are diverted into favored schools. Those schools and programs are not and have never been shown to be better in design, operation, method, or curriculum, but only shine because they serve the easier to teach mix of students. Third world (with no middle class) here we come.

    1. Brad Warthen

      Well, as I just said to Phillip…

      As for education secretary, do you suppose any GOP member cares who the education secretary is, one way or the other? I would never expect one of them to stick his neck out on that matter, except maybe Lamar Alexander.

        1. Scout

          Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins are the only ones that did. Lamar seemed right pleased with her. She donated money to nearly half of the republicans that voted for her. Lisa Murkowski was the only one who received money from her who decided to actually look at the evidence and be an independent thinker on the subject, apparently. Yay for Lisa. But oh well.

  6. Dave Crockett

    On a semi-related thread…I noted that Trump’s Supreme Court nominee was quoted yesterday as saying that Mr. T’s disparagement of the three federal appeals court judges hearing the immigration ban challenge was “disappointing and demoralizing”. Wonder if his nomination will be withdrawn as a result…

    1. Dave Crockett

      “Disheartening” and “demoralizing” upon rechecking the quotes… Gotta be accurate.

    2. Bryan Caskey

      I keep telling leftists that they should be happy with Gorsuch because his judicial philosophy makes him skeptical of the expansive powers of the executive branch. And the guy running the executive branch is someone we should be skeptical of…

      1. Phillip

        And I agree with Bryan and Brad. We have to pick our battles, and assuming Gorsuch said what he said, a conservative judge who will stand up for the independence of the judiciary and for limits on executive power could be a very good thing. Trump is being unbelievably thick-headed (what else is new) to challenge the veracity of these quotes—I would think they would go a long way towards getting a few Democratic votes for confirmation at least. But part of me thinks Trump WANTS every confirmation vote to be as partisan as possible, he wants as much political division as possible.

        1. bud

          The cynic in me says it’s a deliberate attempt to appease Democrats. This is the fight and now is the time. A 4-4 SCOTUS is a good thing right now. Let’s keep it that way as long as we can.

          1. Bryan Caskey

            “Let’s keep it that way as long as we can.”

            Won’t be long. The current term will end in June or July. Gorsuch will be on the Court for the start of the October 2017 term barring some sort of major fiasco. Unless there’s something crazy, I don’t think the Democrats in the Senate have the stomach to filibuster him. Even if they did, McConnell is going to get rid of it.

            Finally, I doubt there will even be enough Democrats to support a filibuster. Red state Democratic senators up for re-election in 2018 aren’t going to want to walk the plank to appease the base.

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              The Democrats would be nuts to try to make their stand on Gorsuch.

              Of course, they are technically one of our two major parties, so technically, they are nuts. And court nominations are one of the things that make them nuttiest.

              But it would be PARTICULARLY stupid to waste ammo on this one.

              The problem is, the party/interest group complex doesn’t care. They’ll whip up their email address databases to raise money with this, painting Gorsuch as akin to the Antichrist.

              Why? Because that’s how they get their funding. They’ve gotta protect their phony-baloney JOBS, gentlemen!

              It’s not about defeating Gorsuch. It’s about getting a “harrumph” outta the base…

              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                These interest groups wouldn’t know how to build consensus if their lives depended on it — because all they’ve ever tried to do in their lives is the opposite of that.

                I got an email today from one group boasting “Sen. Ernst joins our fight to confirm Gorsuch.”

                And I’m like, Ernst? Joni Ernst, from Iowa? She’s a Republican! Why are you bothering me with this? Are you going to tell me every time a dog bites a man? Get back to me when you’ve got a Democrat…

                Sheesh, these people…

              1. Claus

                That’s only 600 views a day. What you need to look at is unique views. Me flipping through pages probably accounts for 30 views a day.

                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  It’s about 9,500 “sessions” — each of which would have a couple or more pageviews.

                  And it’s just under 5,000 unique visitors. Interestingly, it’s about half regulars and half newcomers. I would think the regulars would be a larger percentage. Maybe a lot of the first-timers are coming in because of my social media.

                  I know why it’s under 20k. I haven’t been posting enough. Whenever I know I haven’t been posting as often as I should, I sort of dread looking at the numbers…

        2. Brad Warthen Post author

          Thumbs up to what Phillip said.

          I look forward to this justice slapping Trump down on a few rulings, schooling him on what a constitutional republic is about…

          1. Bryan Caskey

            I keep telling everyone who will listen – Gorsuch is really skeptical of Executive overreach. It’s probably his biggest difference from Garland. Gorsuch is exactly who everyone wants on the bench.

            Anyone else sort of “skeptical” about the Executive these days? Can a brother get an Amen?

          2. Richard

            There’s a shocker.

            9th circuit court, they might as well just just ask Pelosi and Feinstein how they’d rule. Most liberal court in the country.

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