September 25, 2019

Republicans Block Senate Passage of Menendez Bill on Ukraine

“We are in a crisis. It’s a crisis potentially of constitutional proportions, a crisis that goes to the heart of our democracy.”

WASHINGTON – Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today attempted to unanimously pass new comprehensive legislation to ensure Congress and the American people get a full accounting of how President Trump leveraged security assistance to Ukraine for his personal gain. 

Full Senate passage of Menendez’s Ukraine Foreign Assistance Integrity and Accountability Act of 2019 was blocked by Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim Risch (R-Idaho). Menendez’s legislation requires the State Department’s Inspector General to investigate the White House’s decision to freeze security assistance funds to Ukraine, and forces the Department to turn over all records relating to the Ukraine scandal, including in relation to its involvement in facilitating meetings between the Ukrainian government and President Trump’s personal lawyer. The bill also expresses support for the Ukrainian people by requiring the State Department to immediately obligate all outstanding funds for Ukraine, and authorizing the imposition of new sanctions on Russia for its continued aggression against Ukraine. 

“President Trump has once again stood in the way of congressional efforts to support Ukraine and all of Europe in the face of Russian aggression,” said Menendez. “It is time for this Congress to stand up for its Article 1 powers. We need to act quickly to send a message to this White House and to the Kremlin.   If there is anything we have learned from President Trump, it is that lawlessness begets lawlessness. It is time for us to remind the American people and the world that the rule of law means something. We will not allow the corrupting of our national security assistance. We will not allow our relationship with Ukraine to become a political football.  And we will not let the foreign policy of the United States be corrupted for campaign purposes.”

Menendez’s legislation comes as a direct response to the news that the Trump Administration froze nearly $400 in Congressionally-approved foreign assistance funds days before a phone call in which the President directly pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to take action against President Trump’s political opponents—a move that would bolster the President’s 2020 election prospects.

“Today’s summary of the telephone call from the White House between [Donald Trump] and a foreign leader exposes this in black and white.  Given this White House’s lack of transparency, I have little faith that this so-called transcript reflects the totality of the conversation.  But what they did release was shocking enough,” added Menendez, commenting on today’s release of a summary of the call between Presidents Trump and Zelensky. “He clearly pressured the Ukrainian government to investigate Vice President Biden for his own political benefit; mentioning the Attorney General or his personal lawyer six times. Using the levers of the state, the president sought to weaponize the Justice Department to pursue a personal political vendetta.”

Just yesterday, Menendez sent a series of letters to demanding an investigation into the delayed the dispersal of urgently needed security funding to Ukraine and whether the administration was complicit in the President’s efforts to seek an investigation into his political rivals.

A copy of the Ukraine Foreign Assistance Integrity and Accountability Act of 2019 can be found here, and Senator Menendez’s full remarks are below:

“Mr. President, I come to the floor once again to call for action in light of revelations that President Trump once again appears to have no problem with seeking the assistance of a foreign government for his own political gain.

Today’s summary of the telephone call from the White House between him and a foreign leader exposes this in black and white.  Given this White House’s lack of transparency, I have little faith that this so-called transcript reflects the totality of the conversation.  But what they did release was shocking enough.  He clearly pressured the Ukrainian government to investigate former Vice President Biden for his own political benefit; mentioning the Attorney General of the United States or his personal lawyer six times. Using the levers of the state, the president sought to weaponize the Justice Department to pursue a personal political vendetta.

We now know that for more than two months, the President urged Ukraine to investigate a political opponent while holding $391 million in urgently-needed security assistance Congress appropriated to support U.S. national security interests. In fact, Congress approved this security assistance –including $141.5 million from the U.S. State Department and $250 million from the Pentagon –with overwhelming bipartisan support.

Indeed, for years now, Republicans and Democrats have come together to offer America’s support to Ukraine in the face of relentless Russian aggression. We have stood together with Ukraine because we know what is at stake. Our friends in Ukraine sit on the front lines of a struggle against the Kremlin’s vision of a world that is not guided by democratic values or governed by the rule of law but instead ruled by Putin and his corrupt cabal of oligarchs.

Together, Democrats and Republicans have stood behind free and independent Ukraine because together, we stand behind our shared values of freedom, democracy, the rule of law and human rights.  We have stood in support of Ukraine in pursuit of our own strategic interests in the region. That is why we came together when Russian forces illegally invaded Crimea in 2014, and worked to bolster American support of Ukrainian sovereignty. I was proud of that moment, as the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, that we passed the Ukraine Freedom and Support Act with strong bipartisan support.

In an era of growing political divides, our support for a democratic, free and sovereign Ukraine inspired us to transcend partisanship and to work together in common cause. I applaud my Republican colleagues who have worked on these efforts, who have traveled to Ukraine and been strong advocates for our partners standing up against Kremlin aggression. That’s why it is all the more puzzling that Republicans have largely been silent over the past few days. 

What ever happened to solidarity with Ukraine? What ever happened to standing up to Russia? What ever happened to putting the national security of the United States ahead of petty partisan politics?

We have found ourselves with a President in the White House who has now sought to manipulate aid to Ukraine to advance his own personal political agenda.

Let’s examine what we know. President Trump admitted that he spoke with President Zelensky and raised the issue of investigating the family of Vice President Biden.  That was included in today’s so-called transcript of the congratulatory call with President Zelensky.

We know that after Congress appropriated this funding, the Department of State sent a notification to the White House Office of Management and Budget on June 21st.  We know that deliberations over this kind of funding typically takes just five days. Instead, the White House sat on this funding for two whole months.

My staff met with the State Department last Friday. We tried to glean what could be the cause for this delay. Did the Department have an objection to this money moving forward? No, they did not. Did they know why the White House sat on it for two months? No, they did not. Did the White House ask them any substantive questions on the security assistance to Ukraine over these months? No, they did not, and neither did the Defense Department. In other words, the State Department was unaware of any policy motivation that could have delayed the dispersal of urgently-needed security funding to Ukraine.

There was no policy motivation. On the contrary, the revelations of the past few days suggest a political motivation. It appears that President Trump’s willingness to use the powers of his office for grossly inappropriate behavior on the international stage is pretty big. So we need to know exactly who in the Trump Administration played a role in the improper withholding of congressionally-appropriated funding for Ukraine, and how.

That is why today Mr. President, I am calling for unanimous consent for my bill, the Ukraine Foreign Assistance Integrity and Accountability Act of 2019. This bill would require an Inspector General State Department investigation into the Office of Management and Budget’s delay in obligating these funds. 

My legislation would require the State Department to share all records its role in facilitating the President’s personal lawyer’s engagement with the Ukrainian government. It would require the Administration obligate all Ukrainian security assistance funds and authorize additional funds to counter Russian malign influence across Europe. And it would also express solidarity with the Ukrainian people by imposing new sanctions on Russia for its continued aggression in eastern Ukraine. Those sanctions would target Russia’s shipping sector, oligarchs, and cyber attackers.

Now, Mr. President, I want to be clear that I am an advocate of regular order here in the Senate. But we are in a crisis. It is a crisis potentially of constitutional proportions, a crisis that goes to the heart of our democracy. And how we respond to it will forever define our willingness as a Congress to defend the rule of law and live up to our Article One responsibilities.

President Trump has once again stood in the way of congressional efforts to support Ukraine and all of Europe in the face of Russian aggression. The Administration has once again flouted the rule of law, this time with the Acting Director of National Intelligence refusing to disclose to Congress the whistleblower complaint on President Trump’s conversations with President Zelensky—and we don’t know what more—as he as mandated to do so.

It is time for this Congress to stand up for its Article One powers. We need to act quickly to send a message to this White House and to the Kremlin.  If there’s anything we’ve learned from President Trump, it’s that lawlessness begets lawlessness. It is time for us to remind the American people and the world that the rule of law means something.

We will not allow the corrupting of our national security assistance. We will not allow our relationship with Ukraine to become a political football.  And we will not let the foreign policy of the United States be corrupted for campaign purposes.

So for that reason, Mr. President, I ask for unanimous consent that the Committee on Foreign Relations be discharged from further consideration of S.2537, that the Senate proceed to its immediate consideration, that the bill be considered read a third time and pass, and that the motions to reconsider be considered laid upon the table, with no intervening action or debate."

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