Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., joined by attorneys Paul D. Clement, far left, and Rick Esenberg, second from left, announces that he has filed a lawsuit to block the federal government from helping to pay for health care coverage for members of Congress and their staffs, Monday, Jan. 6, 2014.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo

Home from Moscow, GOP senator questions value of existing sanctions


Eight Republican members of Congress – seven senators and a House member – thought it’d be a good idea to take a partisan trip to Russia last week, spending the 4th of July in Moscow. Given an opportunity to confront Putin’s government on a range of issues, including its attack on U.S. elections, these GOP lawmakers instead sounded a “conciliatory tone” toward their hosts.

The Rachel Maddow Show, 7/3/18, 9:09 PM ET

Republicans on board with Trump in odd deference to Russian goals

Rachel Maddow reports on a Republican congressional delegation to Moscow behaving awkwardly deferential in a way that dovetails with Donald Trump acceding to Russia’s wish list despite the conclusions of American intelligence that Russia is actively
After the Republicans left, Russian state television mocked the U.S. congressional delegation “for appearing to put a weak foot forward.”

It’s against this backdrop that one of the Moscow Eight is publicly questioning the efficacy of existing U.S. sanctions against Russia. The Washington Examiner  spoke to Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, who also chairs a Senate Foreign Relations panel.

President Trump and U.S. lawmakers should consider revising sanctions targeting Russia so they focus more on Russian oligarchs, a senior Republican lawmaker suggested after participating in a congressional delegation visit to Moscow.

“You do something and nobody ever sits back and analyzes, ‘Well, is it working?’” Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., told the Washington Examiner. “And I think you’d be hard-pressed to say that sanctions against Russia are really working all that well.”

The Wisconsin Republican suggested a different approach, in which U.S. sanctions were targeted against Russian oligarchs and members of Vladimir Putin’s inner circle. (At the risk of sounding picky, I should probably note that we’ve already done that. Perhaps Johnson wants more along these lines?)

In the same Examiner interview, the senator said foreign interference in American elections “is not the greatest threat to our democracy” and has been blown “way out of proportion.”

So let me get this straight: a group of Republicans went to Russia, where they were reluctant to accuse Putin’s government of much of anything, and where one of the leading GOP senators denied that Russia is even an adversary.

Upon returning home, another leading Senate Republican questioned the value of existing sanctions against Russia and suggested the most serious attack against the United States since 9/11 has been blown “way out of proportion.”

Ron Johnson went on to say, “When ruthless, strong people perceive weakness, they pounce. Russia wants to reconstitute, basically, its sphere of influence that they had in the Soviet Union. So, you understand that, and if you don’t want to let that happen, you’ve got to push back with strength and resolve … but that doesn’t mean that we have to be enemies.”

Sure, senator, tell us some more about the dangers of showing weakness.

Foreign Policy, Ron Johnson, Russia and Vladimir Putin

Home from Moscow, GOP senator questions value of existing sanctions