Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware introduced a resolution Wednesday to reaffirm support for the US intelligence community following President Donald Trump's comments Monday siding with Russian President Vladimir Putin over US intelligence agencies about election interference.
Notably, this measure is not legislation; it is a Senate resolution that would not become law.
Flake and Coons, both members of the Senate Judiciary and Foreign Relations committees, will speak on the Senate floor Thursday to request unanimous passage of the resolution.
"This body must reaffirm that we stand with the men and women of the Department of Justice," Flake said in a statement. "I hope the President will take the word of our intelligence agencies rather than the empty words of a dictator."
The resolution also calls on relevant Senate committees to exercise congressional oversight, "including prompt hearings and the release of relevant notes and information, to better understand the impact of the recent summit in Helsinki, Finland on the foreign policy and national security of the United States." It also maintains Russia "must be held accountable for its actions" and calls for the "immediate and full implementation of mandatory sanctions."
During a joint news conference in Helsinki with Putin, Trump said that while he has "great confidence" in the US intelligence community, Putin was "very powerful" in his denial of Russian interference in the 2016 US election, comments that he attempted to walk back Tuesday.
"In a key sentence in my remarks I said the word 'would' instead of 'wouldn't,' " Trump said Tuesday. He explained he had reviewed a transcript and video of his remarks.
"The sentence should have been: 'I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be Russia,' " the President said. "Sort of a double negative."
"I think there is real value in having a broad bipartisan statement that reinforces our support for the intelligence community and the ongoing investigation by special counsel (Robert) Mueller that calls for concrete action to protect our election system," Coons told CNN on Tuesday.
Flake said he has spoken with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell about the resolution but Flake stopped short of saying that the Kentucky Republican was in support of the move.
"They're not saying don't do this or this is the wrong thing to do," Flake said.
"There's a possibility that we may well take up legislation related to this," McConnell said Tuesday on Capitol Hill after mentioning a proposal by Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, to impose sanctions on any country that interferes in US elections.
"In the meantime," McConnell said, "I think the Russians need to know that there are a lot of us who fully understand what happened in 2016, and it really better not happen again in 2018."
Flake is pushing for McConnell to do more, and sooner. "That's about as far as he's gone," Flake said of McConnell's consideration of the Rubio proposal. "I think we need to go a little further than that."
When asked about the criticism that this resolution is largely symbolic and won't yield tangible results, Flake said the President has wide authority when it comes to foreign policy, but "you try to use whatever leverage you can."
Flake said Congress needs to also find out if additional sanctions on Russia are appropriate, and ensure the Russian nationals indicted in Mueller's investigation are brought to justice.
"That has me concerned because if the President doesn't believe our intelligence services, doesn't believe that those indictments are appropriate, then the administration might not work as hard as they should to bring these people justice," Flake said.