Senator Sanders and Russia: Setting the Voting Record Straight

Photo by Gage Skidmore

As it is expected that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) will soon announce his 2020 Presidential campaign, many Democrats are attempting to tie him into the 2016 Russian interference scandal with revisionist history and a concerning disregard for what the Senator has stated on this topic on multiple occasions.

Now before we go any further, we have to clarify one thing: Russia is not Communist. Russia is not socialist. It is certainly not a society in which Democratic Socialists like Sanders might thrive in. The USSR does not exist anymore. Russia is not a far-left dictatorship and it is in no way consistent with Sen. Sanders’ ideology. Russia is a dictatorship, but a far-right one at that. It is one misstep to forget this fact, but another huge misstep to tie Sanders to the far-right authoritarian President Trump who has nothing but good things to say about Vladimir Putin.

It even feels silly having to Google a source to put here just to back that up. Anyway, let’s move on to a comprehensive list of the Democratic version of alternative facts. To our credit, Democrats do use facts, in contrast to the Trump Administration which regularly publishes false information. On the left, we much prefer to hand-pick and mislead as seen below.

This Twitter account starts with a fact. Sen. Sanders did vote against the 2012 Magnitsky Act, joining three other Democratic Senators: Carl Levin (MI), John Reed (RI), Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), and two other Democrats who did not vote. Where are all of the people questioning Senators Whitehouse and Reed on their ties to the Kremlin?

Clinton strategist Peter Daou, along with many Sanders critics, neglect to mention that those other three Senators were Democrats, each with their own reasons to oppose this bill. Yet the only time context does not matter is when it is used to distort the rationale behind a vote.

Context is important here. It is more likely that Sen. Sanders voted against the means regarding permanent normal trade relations and not to protect Russia. The same could be said for the other Democratic Senators. What this account fails to mention is that Sen. Sanders voted for a stricter version of the Magnitsky Act in 2015, S. 284 — Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. It also helps to realize that the Obama Administration was also cautious regarding sanctions during this time.

TL;DR: Opposition to sanctions in 2012 does not make a Russian agent.

However, let’s head to 2014 during the Russian annexation of Crimea.

Sen. Sanders said in a television interview:

The entire world has got to stand up to Putin. We’ve got to deal with sanctions. There are a number of things that you could do. But this is what you don’t do: You don’t go to war. You don’t sacrifice lives of young people in this country as we did in Iraq and Afghanistan. — Bernie Sanders, March 2014

Sen. Sanders has supported Russian sanctions in 2014. Sanders and 97 other Senators also voted in favor of U.S. aid to Ukraine. H.R. 5859, known as the Ukraine Freedom Support Act of 2014, passed the Senate with a voice vote at the end of 2014. It is not clear who voted for this, but it is clear that Senator Sanders was in favor of sanctions and Ukraine aid given his votes on related legislation and his outspoken opposition against the situation in Crimea.

The lack of Senate records on this vote does not make Bernie Sanders a “nay” vote and it is unclear why it has been used as an example.

So when was Bernie supposedly activated as a Russian agent when Vladimir Putin whispered the secret word to activate his Kremlin chip?

Let’s look at what happened in 2017.

What we have to remember is that legislation is often filled with tricks, often intentionally. H.R. 3355, for example, was an omnibus piece of legislation that covered topics including but not limited to law enforcement, violence against women, and firearms. Sen. Sanders has been criticized due to the gray area associated with the bill and all of its previous forms.

The point is that when you have bipartisan input, there is a downside. Both parties will have to concede something. Sanders can express his fears that a crime bill will disproportionately target the African American community, but that it is important to pass the provisions involving violence against women.

In 2017, a Senate vote on H.R. 3364 to review and counter the aggression from Iran, Russia, and North Korea shows Sen. Sanders as a “nay”. He has been questioned countless times on this vote and has given the same answer. Basically, he believed that these countries should have been dealt with in separate legislation and should not have been grouped.

In fact, Sen. Sanders appeared to be the only Senate Democrat who was concerned about this, questioning the intentions of President Trump and the future of the Iran Nuclear Deal.

This was one of those bipartisan traps from earlier. With Russia and Iran in the same place, it was no surprise that H.R. 3364 passed by the margin it did. This was a win/win situation for all, even the President. Sanders realized its potential and knew that it would be signed into law. The meaning of a vote is not to be on the winning side. It seems as though unanimous passage would be ideal, and that any opposition would indicate a lone defector in a room of 98 other Senators when you remove Rand Paul.

It is not ideal when we consider what legislation like this can do, especially considering the Iran Deal. If something seems too good to be true, it is. It is unclear why neither party expressed concerns of grouping Iran sanctions with Russian sanctions and why this bill received such support. What if a Senator, such as Sanders, would be more than willing to vote for sanctions on Russia yet express reservations against how the bill is handling Iran?

That’s when you are in a no-win situation. Voting for this bill for the Russian sanctions would conflict with Bernie’s view on Iran. Let’s be clear that Iran was the main topic of discussion here and it was amidst President Trump’s decision to dismantle the Iran Deal.

It is unfortunate to see fellow Democrats criticizing Sanders for this vote while simultaneously expressing concern over Trump’s handling of Iran. Every other Senate Democrat sent H.R. 3364 to the President’s desk.

Let’s end with 2019.

It is true that Senator Sanders missed the vote on a resolution that would keep sanctions on companies associated with Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch. This measure needed 60 votes to pass and received 57 with multiple Republicans joining the Democrats. Sanders’ absence was due to a meeting with former staffers who have expressed sexism concerns during his 2016 campaign.

It is troublesome to see fellow Democrats put Sen. Sanders in a no-win situation again. While it is not characteristic of Sanders to miss a vote, the lack of a vote again does not indicate collusion with a foreign government that Sanders has spent years speaking out against. Additionally, it is disappointing to see fellow Democrats attack Sen. Sanders instead of the many other Republicans who did not join their colleagues in joining the Democrats on this legislation.

Just as a final note: Sanctions have a place in foreign policy, but they are not always the first or best solution. There is a contrast between how the public perceives diplomacy breakdowns and the deeply-involved process of crafting legislation. It is shallow to conclude that all votes against sanctions are a clear indication of collusion.

This concept needs no defending.