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Senate Precedes Trump Meetings with NATO-Backing Vote, Crimea Sanctions Bill

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the International Cybersecurity Congress in Moscow on July 6, 2018. (Valeriy Melnikov / Sputnik via AP)

WASHINGTON — The Senate is sending a couple of legislative messages in advance of the NATO summit in Brussels this week and next Monday’s Helsinki summit between President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

As Trump flew to Belgium today, the Senate passed 97-2 a measure offered by Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Jack Reed (D-R.I.) to “reaffirm the ironclad U.S. commitment under Article 5 to the collective defense of the alliance.”

The “nays” came from Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rand Paul (R-Utah). “Why is the U.S. Senate pushing to expand NATO when most of them aren’t even paying their fair share? I stand with @realDonaldTrump,” Paul tweeted.

“No one should ever doubt the United States’ resolve in meeting its commitments to the mutual defense of the NATO alliance,” Reed said on the Senate floor. “Unfortunately, this motion has become necessary because some of our closest allies have come to question the U.S. commitment to collective self-defense. President Trump has at times called the alliance ‘obsolete.’ Our allies are starting to wonder whether they can rely on the United States to come to their defense in a crisis.”

Though absent for the vote, Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) issued a statement stressing that “America’s allies must never forget that across the Atlantic, there remains overwhelming bipartisan support in the Congress for the transatlantic alliance.”

“No U.S. policy or strategy in Europe can succeed without a strong transatlantic alliance. Allies can and must have candid discussions with one another about differences,” he added. “But unrestrained attacks on our closest partners will only serve to sow dissent among allies and embolden our adversaries.”

Trump has been making statements and firing off tweets predicting a difficult meeting with NATO and complaining about the financial contributions of members.

Separately, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a resolution today condemning Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea and calling on the Trump administration to formalize a policy of non-recognition of Russia’s land acquisition. The resolution stresses the importance of continuing punitive sanctions on Russia.

The resolution from Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) was co-sponsored by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio.).

“Our country should never recognize this aggression and should increase sanctions on Russia until Crimea is returned to Ukrainian control,” argued Menendez. “The American people and our allies expect the president to fully defend our democracy and our national security: that includes support for our friends in Ukraine who strive simply for their sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country.”

Portman said the resolution is about sending a message that the United States “continues to stand with Ukraine against Russian aggression.”

“Crimea was illegally seized from Ukraine by Russia, and the United States must never recognize this illegitimate occupation,” he said. “This violates not just the rights of the Ukrainian people, but also the fundamental principles of the international order that America has proudly led for more than 70 years. Crimea is part of Ukraine. Until Russia recognizes that fact and returns Crimea to Ukrainian control, the United States must maintain sanctions on Russia.”