Senators put bipartisan pressure on Biden to designate Russia a state sponsor of terrorism

Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union” on Sunday that the designation should be made either by the President or Congress, with both of them saying Biden must intensify pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin and continue aiding Ukraine amid the ongoing invasion .

“I hope the President will decide to adopt this position voluntarily and he has not taken it off the table on state-sponsored terrorism,” said Blumenthal, who represents Connecticut.

Graham, of South Carolina, said he wants the Biden administration to engage with Congress in designating Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism, but said Congress is “willing” to advance legislation calling for the designation regardless.

“I’d like to work with (the Biden administration). But whether or not we have to do legislation to make it happen — we’re willing to do. I am urging the administration to act now,” Graham said.

The two senators traveled together in June to Ukraine, where they met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and called on Biden to send more humanitarian aid to the county and issue stronger sanctions in addition to designating Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism.

The US State Department is responsible for designating nations as state sponsors of terrorism. The department defines the designation as a country that has “repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism.” There are only four countries that are currently labeled state sponsors of terrorism by the US: North Korea, Iran, Cuba and Syria.

In July, the Senate passed a non-binding resolution calling on the State Department to designate Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism. And in April, a senior administration official said department officials were looking at the possibility of labeling Russia a state sponsor of terrorism.

Both senators on Sunday praised House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for making a controversial visit to Taiwan last week and connected American support for the self-governing island to the impact of US aid to Ukraine in combating Russia’s invasion. Blumenthal said, “China is watching what we do in Ukraine” as it considers potential actions in neighboring Taiwan.

“She should have gone, I’m glad she went,” Graham said. “If she hadn’t gone, what would that have sent a signal to the Iranians and to the Russians?”

Upcoming Senate agenda

Although Graham and Blumenthal were split on the benefits of the Inflation Reduction Act, Democrats’ sweeping climate and health care bill that is being debated in the Senate on Sunday, the senators both advocated more bipartisan gun legislation.
The two senators, who both supported the gun safety legislation passed earlier this year, said there were more gun safety overhauls they both wanted to see passed. They specifically highlighted a proposal to empower judges and law enforcement to restrict gun access to those who may pose a threat to others.

“I think what we can do is incentivize states to give them the tools they need to deal with this before it’s too late,” Graham said, stressing that his proposal would not be a “national ‘red flag’ law.”

“The common ground that I think we share and many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle share: Keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people, but through due process,” Blumenthal said.

The two stood by their respective party’s positions when asked about Democrats’ climate and health care bill. Blumenthal said the bill would deliver “historic” cost savings to Americans, while Graham said the legislation is “gonna make everything worse.”

Blumenthal and Graham also split on whether Congress should codify the right to marriage for same-sex couples. Although some Republicans have said they would side with Democrats on the bill, Graham said he believes same-sex marriage laws should be decided by the states.

When asked if the US Supreme Court decision affirming the right to same-sex marriage should be overturned, Graham replied: “Well, that’d be up to the court.”

2024 elections

Blumenthal, who is up for reelection this year, did not say whether or not he wants Biden to run for reelection in 2024, saying instead that he is concentrating on this year’s midterms.

“I’m going to be very blunt and very honest with you. My focus is totally on this November,” Blumenthal said.

He continued: “I will support President Biden if he decides he wants to run and I think his decision will be determined by how November ends for the Democratic Party and for senators like myself who are running for reelection.”

Graham, in contrast, reiterated his support for Donald Trump and said he would support the former President if he runs for a second term in 2024.

However, Graham said Trump should refrain from bringing up election conspiracies if he runs again, noting: “I don’t believe the election was stolen.” But he added that he wants to “look at election integrity measures.”

“I think we should look at election integrity measures to make sure some problems don’t happen again. But if he runs for president, talking about 2020 is not what people want to hear,” Graham said.

Graham has been subpoenaed by an Atlanta-area grand jury investigating efforts made by Trump and his allies to overturn the 2020 election results in Georgia. Graham has filed a motion to block the subpoena.

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