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Senators Call for Russia Debt Sanctions in Defense Policy Bill

Daniel Flatley and Steven T. Dennis

(Bloomberg) -- Two senators -- a Republican and a Democrat -- are asking for stronger sanctions against Russia in next year’s defense bill, pushing for the final version to include penalties that would be triggered by future election meddling and could hit Russian sovereign debt, energy and defense.

Senators Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida, and Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat from Maryland, asked the House and Senate Armed Services Committees to revise the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act to include some of their proposals.

“We urge you to ensure that the final conference report includes language to prevent future efforts by foreign governments and foreign actors to interfere in American elections by making it clear that such interference will be met with swift and severe consequences,” Rubio and Van Hollen said.

The House and Senate have passed different versions of the 2020 defense bill, and a conference committee will work on a compromise that must pass both chambers and be signed by President Donald Trump to become law. Rubio and Van Hollen’s bill wasn’t included in the Senate version.

The press office for Senate Majority Leaders Mitch McConnell didn’t respond to requests for comment on which provisions are likely to be included in the final version.

Stronger Deterrent

The House’s NDAA bill passed earlier this month included an amendment that would bar U.S. persons from engaging in transactions with Russian sovereign debt within six months. Those sanctions could be relaxed if the director of national intelligence determined that Russia or its agents didn’t meddle in an election.

Senators Rubio and Van Hollen, however, say their bill would be a stronger deterrent by imposing sanctions as a consequence for future election interference, rather than imposing penalties before the next election. They also assert that sanctions on Russian sovereign debt would have a limited effect because there is a low stock of that debt available.

The senators suggest that additional sanctions be levied on Russia’s energy, banking and defense sectors as well as on “oligarchs and senior political figures” that the director of national intelligence determines were involved in election interference.

Dan Coats, the current director of national intelligence, plans to step down next month, and Trump plans to name Texas Representative John Ratcliffe to replace him. In a House hearing last week, Ratcliffe echoed Trump’s characterization of the special counsel investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election as a “witch hunt.”

Separately, Rubio is pushing for an NDAA provision with Van Hollen and Senator Tom Cotton to codify President Donald Trump’s recent executive order on Huawei, which would require approval from Congress to remove the company from the Commerce Department’s banned entity list.

(Updates with additional details on proposal beginning in the first paragraph.)

To contact the reporters on this story: Daniel Flatley in Washington at dflatley1@bloomberg.net;Steven T. Dennis in Washington at sdennis17@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Joe Sobczyk at jsobczyk@bloomberg.net, Anna Edgerton, Laurie Asséo

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