Blue Dogs Urge Congress to Respond to Russian Bounties Reports

July 28, 2020 by Dan McCue
Russia's President Vladimir Putin gives the 15th annual end-of-year news conference at the World Trade Centre in Moscow, Russia. (Mikhail Metzel/TASS via ZUMA Press/TNS)

WASHINGTON – The Blue Dog Coalition of House Democrats is urging the chamber to take up two measures aimed at responding to reports of a Russian plot to pay bounties to the Taliban to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

In a statement released Tuesday, the coalition notes that in the month since the initial reports of the plot were published, multiple congressional Democrats, including several Blue Dogs, have introduced legislation to respond to this activity.

During the same period it says, not a single congressional Republican has come forward with comparable legislation, nor has the Trump administration taken steps to hold Russian President Vladimir Putin accountable.

“It’s inexcusable that, more than a month since credible reports emerged that the Russian government is deliberately targeting our troops through proxies, congressional Republicans and the Trump Administration have failed to act,” said Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Florida, the Blue Dog Coalition’s co-chair for Administration. 

“When the lives of American service members are threatened, our leaders must put country over party and respond appropriately to this aggression,” Murphy said.

The coalition is specifically urging Congress to take legislative action by bringing the DEFEND Act and the SMART Act to the House floor for a vote.

The DEFEND Act, introduced by Murphy, and Blue Dog Coalition member Rep. Joe Cunningham of South Carolina, would require the Director of National Intelligence to swiftly brief key members of Congress if the agency determines, with moderate or high confidence, that a foreign government is deliberately seeking to kill or severely injure U.S. service members.

This would enable Congress to take appropriate action to deter and respond to such conduct, the coalition said.

The SMART Act would require the U.S. Department of State to determine if the Russian Federation should be designated as a state sponsor of terrorism. 

The legislation, which is a companion to bipartisan legislation introduced in the U.S. Senate by Republican Cory Gardner of Colorado and Democrat Bob Menendez of New Jersey, requires the State Department to determine within 90 days and report to Congress whether the Russian Federation should be designated as a State Sponsor of terror under United States law.

The bill was introduced in the House by the co-chairs of the Blue Dog Task Force on National Security, Reps. Max Rose of New York, and Kendra Horn of Oklahoma.

“If our men and women in uniform are being targeted by foreign nations abroad, we must work together in a nonpartisan manner to hold those responsible to account,” Rep. Cunningham said. “The DEFEND Act will ensure Congress has access to the information necessary to protect American lives.”

Rep. Horn said for her, “even the mere possibility of Russian bounties is deeply troubling.”

“The Administration should be doing everything in their power to stand up for our troops and if their policy of close relations with Putin keeps them from doing so, it falls to Congress to hold bad actors accountable,” she said.

Rose agreed.

“If the Administration won’t take necessary action by themselves, Congress should. Our troops deserve better than to brush it under the rug and forget about it as just another news cycle,” he said.

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