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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Senior Democratic and Republican U.S. lawmakers want Washington to respond to Russia’s alleged interference in the U.S. election and actions in Ukraine and Syria, despite Republican President-elect Donald Trump’s calls to improve relations.

Senator Ben Cardin said on Wednesday he was working on what he described as “comprehensive” legislation to respond to Russian actions contrary to U.S. interests in Europe and Syria, as well as cyber attacks blamed on Moscow during the campaign.

“Russia presents a very serious challenge for America. They’re not our partner. They’re a bully,” Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters.

“Whether you attack us by MiG (fighter jet) or by mouse, it’s an attack. It requires a response. It’s clear that they were responsible for the cyber attack on our country in this past election,” Cardin said.

Other lawmakers have also called for action against Russia as they returned to Washington this week for the first time since Trump won the Nov. 8 U.S. election.

On Tuesday, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, one of his party’s senior foreign policy voices, told reporters he wanted Senate hearings on whether Russian President Vladimir Putin interfered in the election.

“We can’t sit on the sidelines,” Graham said.

During the campaign, Trump’s Democratic rival, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, criticized him for praising Putin as a strong leader and saying ties with Russia should be improved at a time when Moscow and Washington are at odds over Syria and Ukraine.

Trump also worried U.S. allies with comments questioning NATO’s mutual self-defense pledge and suggesting he might recognize Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region.

Cardin declined to provide specifics about his legislation ahead of a planned speech on Thursday on Russia policy. When asked if it would include additional sanctions, he said, “It will be comprehensive.”

He said he thought it would be difficult to pass a bill before the current Congress wraps up next month, but that he hoped to lay the groundwork for future action.

Cardin also said he wanted Obama to act before he leaves office on Jan. 20. Congress has already passed legislation giving the president the authority to take actions including imposing additional sanctions or sending more arms to Ukraine.

(Additional reporting by Richrd Cowan; Editing by James Dalgleish)

IMAGE: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Graham speaks at the the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition Forum in Des Moine. Reuters. 

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL)


Twitter has restricted access to a tweet posted Monday by Rep. Matt Gaetz, in which the Florida Republican called for what commenters described as extrajudicial killings of protesters.

"Now that we clearly see Antifa as terrorists, can we hunt them down like we do those in the Middle East?" Gaetz tweeted, joining Donald Trump and other Republicans in blaming anti-fascists for the violence across the country at protests over the death of George Floyd.

Floyd, an unarmed black man, died after a white police officer kneeled on his neck for eight minutes, even as Floyd said he could not breathe. Autopsies have found that Floyd died of asphyxia.While Gaetz's tweet is still up, users have to click on it to see its contents. It's covered by a box that reads, "This Tweet violated the Twitter Rules about glorifying violence. However, Twitter has determined that it may be in the public's interest for the Tweet to remain accessible."

Democratic lawmakers called out Gaetz in response to the tweet and urged Twitter to remove it from the social media platform.

"Take the Gaetz tweet down right now @twitter. RIGHT NOW," Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) tweeted Monday night. "The survivors of mass shootings are lighting up my phone. They are scared to death this will inspire someone to start shooting into a crowd tonight. They are right."

After Twitter took action against his tweet, Gaetz said, "Their warning is my badge of honor."

"Antifa is a terrorist organization, encouraging riots that hurt Americans. Our government should hunt them down. Twitter should stop enabling them. I'll keep saying it," Gaetz said in a tweet that he pinned to the top of his profile page.

Donald Trump has demanded that the antifa movement be labeled a domestic terrorist organization.

However, as factcheck.org noted, "There is no such official federal designation for domestic terrorism organizations." Even if such a designation existed, the site said, it would be "difficult or questionable" to categorize antifa in that manner because it is not an organized group with a hierarchy and leadership.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.