Blue Dogs Urge Congress to Take Up Legislation in Response to Credible Reports of Russian Bounties on U.S. Troops in Afghanistan
WASHINGTON—Today, the Blue Dog Coalition, which focuses on issues related to fiscal responsibility and national security, announced its endorsement of two bills, H.R 7553, Deadly Escalation by Foreign Entities Notification and Disclosure (DEFEND) Act, and H.R. 7561, Stopping Malign Actions from Russian Terrorism (SMART) Act. Both bills were introduced in the House following credible reports revealing a Russian plot to pay bounties to the Taliban to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan. When this intelligence reporting was made public, the Trump administration invited some congressional Republicans and congressional Democrats to the White House to be informally briefed on the matter. Republicans and Democrats were briefed separately, giving a partisan sheen to a national security issue of critical importance to all Americans.
It has been one month since the initial reports of the Russian plot were published. Thus far, multiple congressional Democrats, including members of the Blue Dog Coalition, have introduced legislation in response to those reports. However, no congressional Republicans have put forward legislation and the Trump administration has not taken steps to hold Vladimir Putin accountable since intelligence reports of a Russian plot to pay bounties to the Taliban to kill American troops were made public. The Blue Dogs are urging Congress to take legislative action by bringing the DEFEND Act and the SMART Act to the House floor for a vote.
“Russia is a bully. And the only way to deal with bullies is to stand up to them or they will keep pushing you around. 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 (FL-07), 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.”
“The safety and security of American servicemembers is my top priority in Congress and should never be politicized,” said Rep. Joe Cunningham (SC-01), a member of the Blue Dog Coalition. “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. The DEFEND Act will ensure Congress has access to the information necessary to protect American lives.”
“It’s been a month since we all learned that Russia put bounties on the heads of American soldiers,” said Rep. Max Rose (NY-11), an Army combat veteran who served in Afghanistan and Co-Chair of the Blue Dog Task Force on National Security. “They did so expecting they could get away with it, just like they have time and time again. 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.”
“We must stand up to foreign adversaries when they threaten our men and women in uniform,” said Rep. Kendra Horn (OK-05), Co-Chair of the Blue Dog Task Force on National Security and a member of the House Armed Services Committee. “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. We need to do what’s right for our national security and our service members.”
The DEFEND Act would require the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to swiftly brief key Members of Congress if the DNI determines, with moderate or high confidence, that a foreign government is deliberately seeking to kill or severely injure U.S. servicemembers. This would enable Congress to take appropriate action to deter and respond to such conduct. The legislation was introduced in the House by the Blue Dog Coalition’s Co-Chair for Administration, Rep. Stephanie Murphy (FL-07), and Blue Dog Coalition member, Rep. Joe Cunningham (SC-01).
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 Senators Cory Gardner of Colorado and 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. This designation is made by the Secretary of State for countries that “have repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism” and currently includes North Korea, Iran, Syria, and Sudan. The SMART Act was introduced in the House by the Co-Chairs of the Blue Dog Task Force on National Security, Reps. Max Rose (NY-11) and Kendra Horn (OK-05).
The Blue Dog Coalition has built a strong record of holding foreign adversaries, particularly Russia, accountable for their malign behavior. In the wake of the conclusions presented in Volume I of the Mueller report, the Blue Dog Coalition took the lead in Congress to call for a comprehensive, bipartisan effort to secure U.S. elections, hold Russia accountable for its attempts to meddle in the 2016 and 2018 elections, and deter other adversaries from interfering in future elections. Last year, the Blue Dogs took initiative to raise the alarm by endorsing a package of legislative proposals that have earned bipartisan support in the House and Senate. The news of the Blue Dog proposal received praise from political leaders, and policy experts and organizations, and the threat of increased sanctions on Russia caused the value of the Russian ruble to drop. Among the legislation endorsed by the Blue Dog Coalition was the Senate’s bipartisan Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression (DASKA) Act of 2019, which, among other things, would impose significant sanctions to deter Russia’s destructive behavior.