WASHINGTON – Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake vowed to try again after the Senate blocked a vote Thursday on his resolution supporting U.S. intelligence agencies and rejecting Russian President Vladimir Putin’s claim that Russia did not interfere in the 2016 elections.
The bipartisan resolution also called for sanctions on Russia and a congressional investigation into what transpired at the Helsinki summit meeting between Putin and President Donald Trump, who Flake said “let down the free world” by not confronting Putin.
“By choosing to reject objective reality in Helsinki, the president let down the free world by giving aid and comfort to an enemy of democracy,” Flake said on the Senate floor Thursday. “In so doing, he dimmed the light of freedom ever so slightly in our own country.”
But Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, blocked a vote on the resolution, saying more is needed than the symbolic action it represented.
Cornyn said it is “absolutely clear” that Russia interfered in the 2016 election and “I’m confident they will continue until we stop them from doing so.” But he said he believed the resolution would do more harm to U.S relations with other countries, and that the Senate would be better served to consider new sanctions beyond those authorized in a 2017 law, which the resolution said should be imposed immediately.
The move by Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, appeared to come as a surprise to Flake and his co-sponsor, Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware. It came the same day that the Senate unanimously passed another resolution rejecting Russia’s request to interview U.S. officials in connection with the elections, a suggestion by Putin that also came out of Monday’s summit.
“I think it’s regrettable that this was objected to. We will bring it back,” Flake said on the Senate floor, adding later that he would try again when the Senate meets Tuesday.
The resolution is the latest fallout from Monday’s summit, where Trump downplayed the possibility that Russia meddled in U.S. elections, saying he believed Putin’s “extremely strong and powerful denial” of his country’s involvement. Trump called the U.S investigation into possible Russian meddling “foolish” and said that both countries “have made mistakes.”
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Trump’s comments came just days after the Justice Department announced the indictment of 12 Russian intelligence agents in connection with hacking that was “intended to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election.”
Condemnation of the president was swift, and came from both sides of the aisle, with Flake calling Trump’s statements “shameful” and Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, calling it “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.”
Trump quickly backpedaled, saying Tuesday that he misspoke when asked during the summit about Russian election interference.
“I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place,” Trump said, adding Wednesday that there’s “never been a president as tough on Russia as I have been.”
The Flake-Coons resolution was meant to show support for U.S. intelligence agencies, commending their work and the work of the Justice Department in the probe and agreeing with their finding that Russia interfered in the election.
Besides demanding that Russia be held accountable, the resolution also called for congressional hearings into the actual summit meeting, including “the release of relevant notes and information , to better understand the impact of the recent summit … on the foreign policy and national security of the United States.”
After Cornyn said that more than a symbolic action was needed, an angry Flake said that “symbolism is important.”
“This simply says, in a symbolic way, that we in the Senate don’t buy Vladimir Putin’s … denial of election interference,” Flake said of the resolution.
“We saw earlier this week in Helsinki what was truly an Orwellian moment,” Flake said. He called it the result of two years of the administration “calling real things fake and fake things real, as if conditioning others to embrace the same confusion.
“Ultimately, you’re rendering yourself unable to tell the difference between the two,” he said.