Republicans: Putin 'not welcome' on Capitol Hill

New sanctions push begins

By PHIL MATTINGLY AND TED BARRETT, CNN
Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

(CNN) - Russian President Vladimir Putin may have secured an invitation from President Donald Trump to visit the US, but he will not receive a similar offer from White House allies on Capitol Hill, according to Republican congressional leaders.

"The speaker and I have made it clear that Putin will not be welcome here at the Capitol," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky told reporters Tuesday.

"That's something we reserve for allies," House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin said earlier Tuesday. "Look, I am comfortable having presidents sit down and have one-on-ones with foreign leaders. But what I think matters is the message. And if the message is stop meddling in our country, stop violating our sovereignty, then I support that. But it's the message that counts."

The sharp comments from the two GOP leaders came as senators in both parties began to coalesce around a road map for potential future sanctions against Russia in the wake of Trump's widely criticized public appearance with Putin last week in Helsinki, Finland, and just one day before Secretary of State Mike Pompeo heads to Capitol Hill for his first public testimony since that meeting.

The new effort to review, and potentially apply new, sanctions was spearheaded by McConnell and two Republican committee chairmen and will include hearings on the US-Russia relationship, a review of the Russia sanctions regime put into place by Congress in 2017 and the possible consideration of new sanctions that would snap into place should the intelligence community find that Russia interfered in the 2018 midterm elections.

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker of Tennessee and Senate Banking Chairman Mike Crapo of Idaho, both Republicans, said in a joint statement that they were "eager to continue the important work being done by our committees to push back on Russia."

While a clear legislative path is far from certain, and several GOP aides noted potential White House opposition to any new efforts, the push, along with a separate new Russia sanctions package being put together by Sens. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, and Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations panel, underscores the widely held bipartisan sentiment on Capitol Hill that Trump fell far short of what lawmakers deemed necessary to push back on Russia's efforts, according to the US intelligence community, to interfere in the 2016 elections.

Trump appeared at one point to give Putin's denial of those efforts the benefit of the doubt and in another to blame the US for its role in the activities -- something that has received sharp pushback from lawmakers.

"The Russians better quit messing around in our elections," McConnell said. "I want to make that perfectly clear. The Russians better quit messing around in our elections. They did it the last time. They better not do it again."

McConnell also again opened the door to a new sanctions proposal drafted by Sens. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, and Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat, that would immediately impose wide-ranging sanctions on Russian economic sectors should the director of national intelligence conclude Russia interfered in future elections.

It's an approach that has garnered interest but also some pause from senators, given the potential economic impact on US industries and companies. Still, the bill has continued to gain bipartisan cosponsors in recent days and Rubio and Van Hollen have pushed the relevant committees to consider the legislation.

The new sanctions push also comes as Pompeo prepares to go to Capitol Hill to testify in front of the Senate Foreign Relations committee -- the first member of Trump's national security team to go to Congress in the wake of the meeting with Putin, which included a nearly two-hour one-on-one sit-down with the Russian President.

Senators have made clear they want details of what, if anything, Trump and Putin agreed to during that meeting, as well as any commitments made by the two sides in the subsequent meeting between the leaders and their top aides.

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