Democrats and Republicans agree Trump needs “guardrails” on Russia

February 10, 2017, 12:35pm

House Democrats and Republicans don’t agree on much, but as national security adviser Michael Flynn puts the Trump administration’s relationship with Russia back in the spotlight, a push to limit the president’s ability to conduct diplomacy with Russia is under way.

On Wednesday, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill giving Congress the power to block Trump from lifting sanctions on Russia and halt any effort to do so while they reviewed the plan. Now work is under way on a companion bill in the House, California Rep. Adam Schiff told VICE News in an interview Thursday.

“I would hope that we would put up some guardrails around what the president can do. A lot of us, on a very bipartisan basis, are deeply concerned with his fondness for [Russian President] Putin, his willingness to look the other way in terms of their aggression to the Ukraine,” he said.

Schiff wouldn’t offer specifics, but he said he’s been in touch with Republicans in the House and hopes to introduce a bill “in the next couple weeks.”

Though many Republicans have expressed uneasiness about Trump’s warmth towards Russia, party leadership in both the House and Senate have largely avoided confronting the president over the issue. House Speaker Paul Ryan said in an interview this week that it was “logical” for the new administration to try to improve relations with Russia, pointedly avoiding criticizing Trump.

But on Thursday a Washington Post report cited nine sources saying Flynn suggested to Russian officials in December that Trump would lift Russian sanctions, just as President Obama was putting them in place in response to Russian tampering in U.S. elections.

Schiff suggested if both chambers take up the issue, with bipartisan support, it will be hard for leadership to ignore.

“They may have no choice [but to take up the bill], because the members may simply demand it, on a bipartisan basis. And they may not be willing to stand in the path of their own members in order to carry water for this president,” Schiff said of Republican leaders.

But at the House Democratic Issues Conference in Baltimore this week, where Schiff huddled with the rest of the conference to plot their legislative strategy for the coming year, it was clear there were few other opportunities for the two parties to work together.

In fact, over the course of multiple briefings during the event it became clear that House Democrats’ main strategy in the Trump era is to do all they can to oppose the GOP — and, failing that, draw attention and fire up grassroots opposition to an issue.

“We are in the minority. If the GOP want to pass anything, they have the ability,” Maryland Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger acknowledged in an interview.

But in the states, it’s a different story. Democratic state legislatures and city officials have already started battling Trump, either by refusing to comply with his executive orders or taking him to court.

California, Schiff’s home state, has been one of the loudest and most aggressive states to fight back. There, the Democratic attorney general has joined two lawsuits challenging Trump’s immigration ban, and the state Senate is considering a bill that, in a direct repudiation of Trump’s executive order cutting off funds from cities that protect undocumented immigrants from deportation, would make California a “sanctuary state.”

Trump lashed out at the state in response, calling California “in many ways, out of control” and threatening to withhold federal funding over the sanctuary state effort. But Schiff said Trump’s attacks are a “badge of honor” for California, and “that the more he calls us out of control, the more we take pride in that, in being the leaders of the resistance to his backward policies.”

Trump’s attack is already “mobilizing opposition” to the president, Schiff argued, pointing to the pushback the new president has received from one of California’s largest industries — tech — as an example.

CEOs of a number of tech companies have publicly criticized Trump for his immigration executive order, and Uber CEO Travis Kalanick backed out of the president’s economic advisory council after facing blowback from his employees and users over the policy.

“It’s only steeling our resolve in California” to tackle climate change and bypass Trump’s immigration policies, Schiff said. “The more he pushes back, the more he attacks California, the more I think he emboldens California to raise the level of our resistance to these policies.”