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Trump Silent As Russia Denies Visas To US Senators

Trump has been completely silent following Russia’s refusal to allow two U.S. Senators — Sens. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Chris Murphy (D-CT) — to travel to the country. Both senators have been critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attempts to undermine other governments.

“Senators Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, and Christopher S. Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, both members of the Foreign Relations Committee, planned to visit Russia next week with Senator Mike Lee, Republican of Utah, to meet with government officials and American businesses in the country. But both Mr. Johnson and Mr. Murphy said they were denied visas,” the New York Times reported.

Johnson had announced on Monday evening that Russia denied him a travel visa to visit as part of a planned congressional delegation in September.

“Working with Ambassador Huntsman, I had hoped direct dialogue with Russian parliamentarians could help set the stage for better future relations between our two nations. Unfortunately, Russian officials continue to play diplomatic games with this sincere effort and have denied me entrance to Russia,” Johnson wrote.

The Russian Embassy responded to Johnson’s statement with a belligerent tweet, accusing him of making “groundless accusations against Russia” and asserting that “he is ready not for a dialogue but a confrontation.”

“With the collapse of recent arms control agreements and significant domestic opposition to Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian rule, this is potentially a perilous moment for our two nations’ fragile relationship, and it’s a shame that Russia isn’t interested in dialogue,” Murphy told the Times.

The visa denials follow critical remarks on Russia from the senators.

In April, Murphy told NATO allies to be “constantly vigilant about the very quiet things that the Russians are doing that could ultimately lead to a traditional military confrontation,” citing the Russian regime’s support for “fight clubs and biker clubs” as part of an operation hoping to sow the seeds of domestic instability in other nations.

In March, Johnson and Murphy revealed legislation designed to counter Putin’s actions to wield influence in Europe. Their bill would finance $1 billion in energy projects.

“The Kremlin uses bribery, corruption and scare tactics to coerce countries in Eastern Europe into remaining dependent on Russian energy and oil,” Murphy said in a statement. Johnson said Russia ” can — and will — coerce nations that are dependent upon its energy,” adding, “Countering the destabilizing influence that Russia’s energy dominance has in the region is important for Europe and U.S. national security interests.”

Last July, Johnson called for sanctions on Putin’s inner circle of oligarchs.

“When ruthless, strong people perceive weakness, they pounce,” he said of Russia. “Russia wants to reconstitute, basically, its sphere of influence that they had in the Soviet Union.”

Despite a public back-and-forth between the senators and Russian officials, and coverage in a major outlet like the Times, Trump hasn’t said anything. But, since the news broke, Trump has commented on issues including using nuclear missiles on hurricanes, bedbugs at his hotels, books written by Fox News hosts, Elizabeth Warren’s crowd sizes, and other matters.

The State Department has been silent as well, with no press releases on the denial. When Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was asked about Russia in a local television interview on Tuesday, he did not bring up the diplomatic rejection. But he did amplify Trump’s message at the G-7 conference that Russia should be readmitted to the economic meeting. (They were expelled after the annexation of Crimea)

Trump’s silence follows his asking the Israeli government to deny requests to travel to two Democratic congresswomen. Republicans cheered that decision, choosing a foreign government over their fellow American lawmakers.

According to U.S. intelligence agencies and a Senate investigation, Russia sought to interfere in the 2016 election on Trump’s behalf, preferring him over Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

In the presidency, Russia has seen Trump emerge as one of its most prominent advocates, to the point where an international snub of senators doesn’t appear to matter at all.

Published with permission of The American Independent.

This Is How Much Each GOP Senator Has Received From Gun Rights Groups

This article has been updated to reflect that Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN) voted for all four gun control measures.

Barely more than a week after 49 people lost their lives in the worst mass shooting in American history, Congress has once again voted against gun control. The GOP-controlled Senate rejected four measures that would’ve made background-checks mandatory and prevented names on the terror list watch list from buying guns. Similar gun-control measures were also rejected after the Sandy Hook Elementary School and San Bernardino shootings.

Sen. Chris Murphy, who kick-started the vote with a 15-hour filibuster last week, and who sponsored two of the measures, said he was not surprised by the outcome, “I’m going to be turning my attention to the November election. I’m going to take some of my energy and help make sure that people who cast the wrong vote don’t come back to the Senate,” he told Politico.

“Sadly, our efforts are blocked by the Republican Congress, who take their marching orders from the National Rifle Association.” Said Democratic Sen. Harry Reid in a floor speech.

The Center for Responsive Politics reports:

Gun rights interests have given more than $37 million to candidates, parties and outside spending groups since 1989, with 88 percent of the funds contributed to candidates and parties going to Republicans. And in the 2012 and 2014 election cycles, they let loose another $48 million (at least) in outside spending.

The NRA has provided the lion’s share of the funds, having contributed $22.3 million since 1989. During the 2014 election cycle, it further opened its coffers to make $27 million in outside expenditures.

GOP senators who voted against the “No Fly, No Buy” proposal said that they were just trying to protect the gun rights of people who mistakenly end up on the terror watch list. Instead, Republicans offered two countermeasures: one that would have placed a 72-hour hold on gun sales to people on the terrorist watch list, and another which would have expanded the legal definitions that prevent people with mental health issues form buying guns.

Democrats overwhelmingly rejected those, saying they would have made no difference in the Orlando tragedy.

According to the latest CNN/ORC poll, 92 percent of respondents said they wanted to expand background checks, and 85 percent said they supported a ban for people on federal watch lists from buying guns. Ninety percent of Republicans questioned favored preventing people on the terror list from buying guns, compared to 85 percent of questioned Democrats.

So with support for gun control at an all time high, even amongst Republicans, which senators voted against the restrictions, and why?

The voting occurred mostly along partisan lines, with 53 of 54 Republicans voting against the two Democratic measures. But it was not only Republicans: Sen. Jon Tester voted against Chris Murphy’s bill, and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp voted against Diane Feinstein’s bill.

These senators are two of few Democrats to have taken NRA money — Heitkamp has received $8,000 from gun groups throughout her career and Tester has received $2,50s.

Both senators will seek reelection in heavily republican states in 2018.

Only one Republican, Sen. Mark Kirk voted in favor of both Democratic bills. Kirk is the only GOP Senator that has received anything lower than an A- rating from the NRA. Coincidentally, he has also not received money from gun groups. Kirk represents Illinois, and Chicago is one of the most gun-violent cities in the nation, with more than 1,780 people shot this year. He’s facing reelection in November.

Money from gun rights groups can be traced to the campaigns of all 53 Republican senators who voted against the measure. Over the course of these senators’ careers, the NRA has given a staggering $36,290,699.

One GOP senator, Kelly Ayotte from New Hapmshire, voted for Sen. Diane Feinstein’s bill, but against Chris Murphy’s. Ayotte’s approval ratings fell when she voted against expanding background checks after the 2010 Newtown shooting and is in a tight battle for reelection against Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan. She is now working with Sen. Susan Collins on yet another attempt at compromise.

“To get to that solution, we have to move this debate forward,” said Ayotte said on the Senate floor after voting. She has taken in $29,295 in contributions from gun groups.

Collins has received $19,800 from gun rights groups throughout her career.

Here are the other Republican senators who voted against the measures, and the amounts of money they have received from gun rights groups throughout their careers. Note that these are only direct contributions: the gun lobby spends millions of dollars in “outside spending,” or advertising and other efforts which cannot be legally coordinated directly with campaign committees.

John Cornyn (TX) $169,625

John Thune (SD) $159,705

Mitch McConnell (KY) $132,700

Roy Blunt (MO) $122,630

Jim Inhofe (OK) $121,850

Rand Paul (KY) $109,045

Dean Heller (NV) $104,265

Richard Burr (NC) $97,050

Richard Shelby (AL) $96,850

Pat Toomey (PA) $96,077

Cory Gardner (CO) $93,434

Lindsey Graham (SC) $90,866

Pat Roberts (KA) $90,150

Ted Cruz (TX) $89,579

David Vitter (LA) $79,748

Marco Rubio (FL) $77,139

John McCain (AZ) $76,225

Chuck Grassley (IA) $75,600

Mike Crapo (ID), $72,940

Steve Daines (MO) $72,680

Jeff Sessions (AL) $62,200

Roger Wicker (MI) $59,250

Shelley Capito (WV) $58,200

Ron Johnson (WI) $57,925

Bill Cassidy (LA) $57,153

Tom Cotton (AR) $55,189

Rob Portman (OH) $55,150

Thad Cochran (MI) $53,050

Jeff Flake (AZ) $46,200

John Barrasso (WY) $46,099

Jim Risch (ID) $44,200

Jerry Moran (KA) $43,850

Orrin Hatch (UT) $38,350

Mike Enzi (WY) $37,500

James Lankford (OK) $37,425

John Hoeven (ND), $35,700

Lamar Alexander (TN) $34,750

Lisa Murkowski (AK) $34,358

Johnny Isakson (GA) $33,400

Deb Fischer (NE) $31,100

Joni Ernst (IA) $28,700

Thom Tillies (NC) $28,700

Tim Scott (SC) $27,400

John Boozman (AR) $26,235

Dan Coats (IN) $22,900

Bob Corker (TN) $22,440

Mike Lee (UT) $21,500

Ben Sasse (NE) $20,307

David Perdue (GA) $17,150

Mike Rounds (SD) $17,100

Dan Sullivan (AK) $12,036

 

U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) (C) and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) (R) speak to reporters after ending a 14-hour filibuster in the hopes of pressuring the U.S. Senate to action on gun control measures, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S. June 16, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

More Than A Moment of Silence: A Late-Night Show

WASHINGTON — The best show in town is making a comeback. Annie, get your gun, an old-fashioned filibuster is happening on the Senate floor.

Led by Christopher Murphy, the junior senator from Connecticut, a rising profile in courage, Senate Democrats are showing gumption and backbone over the Orlando bloodbath, the worst mass shooting in American history. The tragedy has changed the minority senators, now acting like they’re alive, after 49 were slain in cold blood, their killer firing hundreds of rounds, the FBI said. You could read their faces: No surrender until two simple gun measures are voted upon.

The Democratic chorus of anguish and anger went something like this: We need more than another moment of silence. We’re here to prick the conscience of the Senate. It’s impossible for us to go home if we do nothing. Is everyone so afraid of the gun lobby? My constituents are calling in tears.

I was there, listening to their voices in the chamber. It was the best thing I’ve seen in the Senate since 1999.

You remember the race-based murders of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, only a year ago. I heard from a white Charleston writer that nobody is “over” the tragedy. The Virginia Tech mass murders will always be the worst day of my life, said a Virginia lawmaker. As for the elementary school shootings at Sandy Hook, in Newtown, Connecticut, surely the trauma of losing loved ones has not passed there, either. Closure is for the birds.

It’s become the American way of death, gun violence. Senator Dick Durbin, D-Ill., stood to say 488 died in Chicago last year at gunpoint.

Also joining Murphy were Senators Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, among dozens of Democrats to stand up and speak out against the stone wall of silence the Senate has shown to the gun violence epidemic for years. The party chieftains, Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., crossed the floor to put their hands on Murphy’s shoulder.

In other words, they weren’t watching the Mitch McConnell show anymore — the brazen Senate Republican leader who has played “No-bama” against the president, recently denying his Supreme Court pick a hearing. The canny McConnell, like the sheriff in town, may yield on a bill denying suspected terrorists on the “no-fly list” access to buying weapons.

A young ‘un, Murphy planned the filibuster — an ambush on regular business — and deftly seized the floor at 11:21 a.m. His colleagues did not just watch a junior senator sink or swim. Showing team spirit in public, they jumped right in the pond with him. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., spent hours supporting the extraordinary scene. Close to 40 Democrats joined the winding colloquy Murphy started, through the day and into the night.

Twelve hours later, the slim Murphy, 42, looked poised to talk as long as it takes. “They brook no compromise,” the lawyer said about McConnell and Republicans generally.

The second measure Murphy held up as a condition was a vote on universal background checks. This idea has lost on this floor before, three years ago, and it broke his freshman senator’s heart.

In the wake of the Sandy Hook school massacre, Murphy was brand new to the Capitol and coping with the heartbreak back home in Connecticut. The school principal, five teachers, and 20 children were lost in a blaze of bullets. And it was on his shoulders to try to make something right.

A bill on background checks lost narrowly in the Senate that spring. President Obama, the exact opposite of Lyndon Johnson’s temperament, kind of let it be. He doesn’t like to play the heavy toward the Senate, once known as “The Plantation.”

But I remember feeling Obama might have done more to keep his promise to grieving communities in Connecticut to stanch the flow of blood by gun. The margin was a handful of votes, child’s play to Johnson.

In his Senate baptism, Murphy was galvanized. For a few years, he kept a lonely vigil on gun violence — until now. “Why did you sign up for this job?” he asked by day.

At night, he answered his question: “This is a national movement.” Look for a few stones to fall from the wall. Soon.

Photo: U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) (center L) and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) (center R) depart the Senate floor directly after ending a 14-hour filibuster in the hopes of pressuring the U.S. Senate to action on gun control measures, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S. June 16, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Senate Republicans Agree To Vote On Gun Control

U.S. Democratic Senator Chris Murphy ended a blockade of the Senate after nearly 15 hours on Thursday, saying Republicans agreed to hold votes on measures to expand background checks and prevent people on U.S. terrorism watch lists from buying guns.

Democrats stalled Senate proceedings on Wednesday in a bid to push for tougher gun control legislation following Sunday’s massacre of 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, and spoke on the Senate floor through out the night.

Republicans, who currently have a 54-person majority in the Senate, have over the years blocked gun control measures, saying they step on Americans’ right to bear arms as guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution.

“When we began there was no commitment, no plan to debate these measures,” Murphy, of Connecticut, said during the 15th hour of the filibuster early on Thursday.

He said Democrats were given a commitment by the Senate’s Republican leadership that votes would be allowed on two measures on preventing gun sales to people on terrorism watch lists and expanding background checks.

“No guarantee that those amendments pass but we’ll have some time to … prevail upon members to take these measures and turn them into law,” Murphy said.

With Republicans and the National Rifle Association gun lobby under pressure to respond to the massacre, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said on Wednesday he would meet with the NRA to discuss ways to block people on terrorism watch or no-fly lists from buying guns.

The Senate had began discussions on legislation to ban firearm sales to the hundreds of thousands of people on U.S. terrorism watch lists. The Orlando gunman, who carried out the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history, had been on such a list.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell urged senators on Wednesday to offer ideas on how to prevent another attack like the one in Orlando.

Late on Wednesday Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid said negotiations “were little more than a smokescreen by Republicans trying to give themselves political cover while they continue to march in lock-step with the NRA’s extreme positions.”

If Congress was to pass a gun control measure, it would mark the first time in more than 20 years that lawmakers agreed on how to address the hot-button issue. A ban on semi-automatic assault weapons, such as the one used in Orlando, had gone into effect in 1994 and expired 10 years later.

 

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Writing Mohammad Zargham; Editing by Bill Trott)

U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) (center L) and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) (center R) depart the Senate floor directly after ending a 14-hour filibuster in the hopes of pressuring the U.S. Senate to action on gun control measures, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S. June 16, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst