Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-KY) push to lift U.S. sanctions on Russian lawmakers failed on Wednesday, with his colleagues on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee questioning the motives behind the proposal.
An aide said Paul was the only lawmaker to vote for his amendment, which would scrap U.S. sanctions on members of the Russian Federal Assembly if Moscow agrees to lift its sanctions on American lawmakers. The 20 other senators on the foreign relations panel voted against it. The Daily Beast first reported that Paul would be introducing the amendment.
The Kentucky lawmaker’s push to normalize U.S.-Russia relations comes a month after he traveled to Moscow and met with Russian lawmakers. During that trip, he invited members of Russia’s legislature to visit the U.S. But many of them are subject to U.S. sanctions and are therefore unable to travel to the United States.
In recent weeks, Paul has also backed up President Donald Trump’s approach on Russia, which Republicans and Democrats alike have criticized as too conciliatory. Privately, members of the foreign relations committee express confusion about Paul’s push, leading them to question whether his Moscow trip left impressions on him that run contrary to current U.S. policies toward Moscow; publicly, they took victory laps and noted the amendment was “strongly” defeated.
“The sanctions were put in place because these members of the Duma voted to authorize [Vladimir] Putin to invade Ukraine and take Crimea. Nothing has changed there,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), the chairman of the foreign relations committee, told The Daily Beast. “There are over 600 members of the Russian parliament who are not sanctioned and we can meet with. Even the ones that are sanctioned—I go to the Munich Security Conference and can see them there, or in Israel or some other place. So it was soundly defeated for obvious reasons.”
When asked whether he thought Paul’s trip to Russia had anything to do with the amendment, Corker demurred: “I don’t know, but obviously it was not a very convincing amendment.”
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), a member of the foreign relations committee who herself is banned from traveling to Russia and was denied a visa last year, told The Daily Beast that Paul’s amendment represents “a capitulation to Putin’s aggression.”
Sergio Gor, Paul’s deputy chief of staff, has said the amendment reflects the senator’s belief that “dialogue and diplomacy are vitally important to global peace.”